Italian Film Director Pantheon:
Moretti Visconti De Sica
Roberto Rossellini made an indelible mark on film history with Rome Open City, inarguably the most important neo-realist film. It was shot almost entirely on location, using only natural lighting and unknown actors. It was also the film that brought Anna Magnani to international fame.
His greatness lay in his ability to make those who watched his films into active participants. There was no way you can be simply entertained by Rossellini. You have to become involved.
Roberto Rossellini was born in Rome, Italy on May 8, 1906. His father was an architect and the family was well connected. At the age of 22, he was invited by Vittorio Mussolini, a close friend of the family, to direct films for the fascist run film commission.
During the war, Rossellini worked as a technical director for fascist-commissioned films. At the same time, however, he was secretly shooting documentary footage of anti-Mussolini resistance fighters.
In 1943, he began work on what many consider the first "neo-realist" film, Desiderio, in which, utilizing a hand-held camera, Rossellini attempted to approach his subject matter as a "spectator" rather than a director.
He was unable to finish this film. Rome: Open City was his first internationally acclaimed film and a perfect example of neo-realism. It was followed by two equally important films, Paisan (1946) and Germany: Year Zero (1947)
He met Ingrid Bergman in 1949. She had been a fan of his since he attained international acclaim in 1945 and had written him several fan letters. They fell in love and left their respective spouses shortly thereafter. The marriage was an international scandal and was condemned by Italian clergymen and politicians. They had three children together, including actress Isabella Rossellini. Bergman refused to work with any other directors and the two collaborated on many projects, the only one of any success was Stromboli. The marriage, however, was short lived.
Rossellini had an affair with scriptwriter Somali Das Gupta in 1957 while working on a multi-part TV documentary on India. The affair, which resulted in a child, marriage and divorce, almost cost Rossellini his career.
Rossellini made a minor comeback in 1959, with the successful General Della Rovere, which starred fellow director, Vittorio De Sica. In 1960, Rossellini, devoted most of his creative energies to directing for television with biographical films about Socrates, St. Augustine and King Louis XIV. His film, The Messiah, was mildly controversial.
He continued to make historical films for Italian TV until his death on June 3, 1977.