GENERAL DELLA ROVERE (Roberto Rossellini, 1959)

Now (rightly) regarded as one of Roberto Rossellini’s lesser works, when it was released General della Rovere won the top prize at Venice, the David di Donatello Award as best film, and the best director prize from Italy’s film journalists. It is a good, strong film, highlighted by two riveting performances; but it is also an artificial one. Its attempt at a revival of neorealismo using the kind of subject matter, now pertaining to the recent past, that had been the contemporaneous subject matter of Rossellini’s (and others’) Neorealist classics divests its material of topicality, rawness, urgency. Visually, the film is fastidiously and overly selfconsciously composed.
     Everyone knows the film’s story. (The script by Indro Montanelli, Rossellini, Sergio Amidei and Diego Fabbri is expert.) Suffice it to say that in 1943 Genoa Victorio Emanuele Bardone, alias Grimaldi (Vittorio De Sica, titanic, powerful), impersonating an Italian army colonel, swindles a series of countrymen with the promise of saving their incarcerated loved ones from deportation to Nazi death camps. Once caught, Grimaldi is persuaded by Mueller (Hannes Messemer, brilliant), a real German colonel, to impersonate Resistance fighter Rovere in exchange for his life. (The Germans want to unmask Resistance fighter Fabrizio, who they believe is among the partisans they have caught.) At the last Bardone/Grimaldi/Rovere, having been “uncorrupted” by the heroic role he has assumed, cancels the deal and embraces his fate.
     Grimaldi’s transformation, then, is intriguingly, subtly motivated; it owes nothing to a sentimental “change of heart.” When I was a boy, the local film reviewer at Newsday, who was blissfully ignorant about art, complained that the film was “split into two incomplete halves”; but this structure, corresponding to Bardone’s fissured personality, reflects his (and others’) desperate attempts at survival.
     Form embodies and analyzes content.

One thought on “GENERAL DELLA ROVERE (Roberto Rossellini, 1959)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s