Roberto Rossellini

Roberto Gastone Zeffiro Rossellini[1][2] (8 May 1906 – 3 June 1977) was an Italian film director, screenwriter, and producer. Rossellini was one of the directors of the Italian neorealist cinema, contributing to the movement with films such as Rome, Open City (1945), Paisan (1946), Germany, Year Zero (1948), and General Della Rovere (1959).

Roberto Rossellini
Rossellini and Saha the cat in the segment Envy from the film The Seven Deadly Sins (1952)
Roberto Gastone Zeffiro Rossellini

(1906-05-08)8 May 1906
Died3 June 1977(1977-06-03) (aged 71)
Rome, Italy
OccupationFilm director, producer, screenwriter
Years active1936–1977
Assia Noris
(m. 1934; annul. 1936)

Marcella De Marchis
(m. 1936; div. 1950)

Ingrid Bergman
(m. 1950; div. 1957)

Sonali Das Gupta
(m. 1957)
Children6, including Renzo Rossellini and Isabella Rossellini

Early life

Rossellini was born in Rome. His mother, Elettra (née Bellan), was a housewife born in Rovigo, Veneto, and his father, Angiolo Giuseppe "Peppino" Rossellini, who owned a construction firm,[3] was born in Rome from a family originally from Pisa, Tuscany. His mother was of part French descent, from immigrants who had arrived in Italy during the Napoleonic Wars.[4] He lived on the Via Ludovisi, where Benito Mussolini had his first Roman hotel in 1922 when Fascism obtained power in Italy.[5]

Rossellini's father built the first cinema in Rome, the "Barberini", a theater where movies could be projected, granting his son an unlimited free pass; the young Rossellini started frequenting the cinema at an early age. When his father died, he worked as a soundmaker for films and for a certain time he experienced all the ancillary jobs related to the creation of a film, gaining competence in each field. Rossellini had a brother, Renzo, who later scored many of his films.

On 26 September 1936, he married Marcella De Marchis (17 January 1916, Rome – 25 February 2009, Sarteano), a costume designer with whom he collaborated even after their marriage was over. This was after a quick annulment from Assia Noris, a Russian actress who worked in Italian films. De Marchis and Rossellini had two sons: Marco Romano (born 3 July 1937 and died of appendicitis in 1946), and Renzo. Rossellini and De Marchis separated in 1950 (and eventually divorced). He later married a Bengali screenwriter, Sonali Dasgupta née Senroy. They raised their son Gil in Italy, who was adopted by Roberto and is now a New York-based film producer and had one daughter, Raffaella Rossellini, together. Although he wasn't personally religious,[6] he had a strong interest in Christian values in the contemporary world;[7] he loved the Church's ethical teaching, and was enchanted by religious sentiment—things which he saw as being neglected in the materialist world.[7]


In 1937, Rossellini made his first documentary, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. After this essay, he was called to assist Goffredo Alessandrini in making Luciano Serra pilota, one of the most successful Italian films of the first half of the 20th century. In 1940 he was called to assist Francesco De Robertis on Uomini sul Fondo. His close friendship with Vittorio Mussolini, son of Il Duce, has been interpreted as a possible reason for having been preferred to other apprentices.

Some authors describe the first part of his career as a sequence of trilogies. His first feature film, The White Ship (1941) was sponsored by the audiovisual propaganda centre of Navy Department and is the first work in Rossellini's "Fascist Trilogy", together with A Pilot Returns (1942) and The Man with a Cross (1943). To this period belongs his friendship and cooperation with Federico Fellini and Aldo Fabrizi. The Fascist regime collapsed in 1943, and just two months after the liberation of Rome (4 June 1944), Rossellini was preparing the anti-fascist Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City 1945). Fellini assisted on the script and Fabrizi played the role of the priest, while Rossellini self-produced. Most of the money came from credits and loans, and film had to be found on the black market. This dramatic film was an immediate success. Rossellini had started now his so-called Neorealistic Trilogy, the second title of which was Paisà (1946), produced with non-professional actors, and the third, Germany, Year Zero (1948), sponsored by a French producer and filmed in Berlin's French sector. In Berlin also, Rossellini preferred non-actors, but he was unable to find a face he found "interesting"; he placed his camera in the center of a town square, as he did for Paisà, but was surprised when nobody came to watch.

As he declared in an interview "in order to really create the character that one has in mind, it is necessary for the director to engage in a battle with his actor which usually ends with submitting to the actor's wish. Since I do not have the desire to waste my energy in a battle like this, I only use professional actors occasionally". One of the reasons for success is supposed to be Rossellini's rewriting of the scripts according to the non-professional actors' feelings and histories. Regional accent, dialect, and costumes were shown in the film as they were in real life.

After his Neorealist Trilogy, Rossellini produced two films now classified as the 'Transitional films': L'Amore (1948) (with Anna Magnani) and La macchina ammazzacattivi (1952), on the capability of cinema to portray reality and truth (with recalls of commedia dell'arte). In 1948, Rossellini received a letter from a famous foreign actress proposing a collaboration:

Dear Mr. Rossellini,
I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only "ti amo," I am ready to come and make a film with you.
Ingrid Bergman

With this letter began one of the best known love stories in film history, with Bergman and Rossellini both at the peak of their careers. Their first collaboration was Stromboli terra di Dio (1950) (in the island of Stromboli, and its volcano quite conveniently erupted during filming). This affair caused a great scandal in some countries (Bergman and Rossellini were married to other people); the scandal intensified when Bergman became pregnant with Renato Roberto Ranaldo Giusto Giuseppe ("Robin") Rossellini. Rossellini and Bergman had two more children, Isabella Rossellini (actress & model) and her twin, Ingrid Isotta. Europa '51 (1952), Siamo Donne (1953), Journey to Italy (1954), La paura (1954) and Giovanna d'Arco al rogo (1954) were the other films on which they worked together.

In 1957, Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister of India at the time, invited him to India to make the documentary India and put some life into the floundering Indian Films Division. Though married to Bergman, he had an affair with Sonali Das Gupta, a screenwriter, herself married to local filmmaker Hari Sadhan Das Gupta, who was helping develop vignettes for the film.[8] Given the climate of the 1950s, this led to a huge scandal in India as well as in Hollywood.[9] Nehru had to ask Rossellini to leave. Soon after, Bergman and Rossellini separated.

In 1971, Rice University in Houston, Texas, invited Rossellini to help establish a Media Center, where in 1970 he had begun planning a film on science with Rice professor Donald D. Clayton.[10] They worked daily for two weeks in Rome in summer 1970, but financing was insufficient for filming to begin. In 1973, he was invited to teach at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where he taught a one-semester course titled "The Essential Image."

Rossellini's final project was the documentary Beaubourg, filmed in 1977 and first premiered in 1983.[11]

Personal life

Rossellini eloped with screenwriter Sonali Das Gupta when she was 27 years old, and he later married her in 1957 and adopted her young son Arjun, renamed Gil Rossellini (23 October 1956 – 3 October 2008). Rossellini and Sonali had a daughter together, Raffaella Rossellini (born 1958), who is an actress and model.[9][12]

In 1973 Rossellini left Sonali for a young woman, Silvia D'Amico.

Rossellini died of a heart attack at age 71 in 1977.


Rossellini's films after his early Neo-Realist films—particularly his films with Ingrid Bergman—were commercially unsuccessful, though Journey to Italy is well regarded in some quarters. He was an acknowledged master for the critics of Cahiers du Cinema in general and André Bazin, François Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard in particular. Truffaut noted in his 1963 essay, Roberto Rossellini Prefers Real Life (available in The Films In My Life) that Rossellini's influence in France particularly among the directors who became part of the nouvelle vague was so great that he was in every sense "the father of the French New Wave".

His posthumous ex-son-in-law Martin Scorsese has acknowledged Rossellini's seminal influence in his documentary My Voyage to Italy (the title itself a take on Rossellini's Voyage to Italy). An important point to note is that out of Scorsese's selection of Italian films from a select group of directors (Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, Michelangelo Antonioni) Rossellini's films form at least half of the films discussed and analyzed, highlighting Rossellini's monumental role in Italian and world cinema. The films covered include his Neo-Realist films to his films with Ingrid Bergman as well as The Flowers of St. Francis, a film about St. Francis of Assisi. Scorsese notes in his documentary that in contrast to directors who often become more restrained and more conservative stylistically as their careers advance, Rossellini became more and more unconventional and was constantly experimenting with new styles and technical challenges. Scorsese particularly highlights the series of biographies Rossellini made in the 60s of historical figures and, although he does not discuss it in detail, singles out La Prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV for praise. Certain of Rossellini's film related material and personal papers are contained in the Wesleyan University Cinema Archives to which scholars and media experts from around the world may have full access.[13] Rossellini's son Renzo is producing the Audiovisual Encyclopedia of History by Roberto Rossellini, a multi-media support containing all of Rossellini's works, interviews, and other material from the Rossellini archive. The Encyclopedia for now exists in prototype form.[14]


Television credits

  • L'India vista da Rossellini (miniseries) (1959)
  • Torino nei cent'anni (1961)
  • L'Età del ferro (1964)
  • La Prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV (1966)
  • Idea di un'isola (1967)
  • Atti degli apostoli (miniseries) (1969)
  • La lotta dell'uomo per la sua sopravvivenza (series) (1970)
  • Socrates (1971)
  • Blaise Pascal (1972)
  • L'Età di Cosimo de' Medici (1973)
  • Cartesius (1974)
  • Concerto per Michelangelo (1977)


  1. The adventures of Roberto Rossellini – Tag Gallagher – Google Books. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  2. Roberto Rossellini's Rome Open City – Google Books. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  3. Rossellini, R.; Aprà, A. (1992). My method: writings and interviews. Marsilio Publishers. ISBN 9780941419642. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  4. "The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini". Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  5. Serri, Mirella From the Odeon to the Odeon: The Experience of Roberto Rossellini from Fascism to Antifascism, Kenneth Lloyd-Jones (translator) TELOS Vol. 139 (Summer 2007): pp. 70–78.
  6. (h)ortus. "La visione della realtà post-bellica italiana nel cinema". Hortus - Rivista di architettura.
  7. Bondanella, Peter. The Films of Roberto Rossellini. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 16–17. Print.
  8. " - Diese Website steht zum Verkauf! - Informationen zum Thema hoveyda".
  9. "The scandal that rocked Calcutta". The Telegraph. 1 June 2008. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
  10. "PHOTO ARCHIVE IN NUCLEAR ASTROPHYSICS". Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  11. Bondanella, Peter; Bondanella, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and Italian Peter (29 January 1993). The Films of Roberto Rossellini. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521398664.
  12. Joeanna Rebello (25 May 2008). "The Girl Who Turned Rossellini's Head". The Times of India. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
  13. "Cinema Archives – Wesleyan University". Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  14. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 21 September 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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