L’œil de Rossellini

Rome ville ouverte (1945)
… et elle tombait dans la rue, le ventre à l’air, abattue comme une pauvre chienne pleine

Mai, 1948

(…) C’est le succès inattendu et révélateur de Roma città aperta qui attira sur ce jeune réalisateur l’attention généralement distraite de la critique. Quel est donc le secret de Rossellini?

Si nous examinons Rome ville ouverte, nous lui découvrons une certaine faiblesse, là où le film, dans sa construction, dans ses péripéties et ses personnages a encore quelque parenté avec les films ordinaires. Et l’on pourrait être tenté de regretter ce manque d’habilité à user des moyens mécaniques les plus éprouvés pour provoquer l’émotion. Mais c’est exactement sous tous ces défauts que germait la puissance d’un artiste prêt à accomplir una espèce de révolution et qui, dans Paisà, jetant aux orties quarante ans de routine cinématographique et de procédés narratifs coagulés, se lança à la poursuite de la vérité.

La poétique nouvelle qu’il a créée prend sa source dans son inquiétude: quand il recherche, à travers mille histoires, l’histoire la plus simple, évidente jusqu’à paraître banale pour qui la juge d’après son contenu en “effets”; quand il fouille les aspects extérieurs d’un monde qui, à d’autres yeux, pourrait apparaître inerte et sans voix; quand il choisit, parmi cent visages, celui qui sera le plus éloquent et, dans l’histoire de ce visage, l’expression qui en révèlera la vérité, soudain, comme dans un éclair de magnésium; enfin lorsqu’il découvre au milieu des plaies apparemment toutes semblables d’un paysage dévasté, le détail clinique où la tragedie s’est mystérieusement condensée.

Ainsi, on peut dire que son objectif ne saisit pas l’occasion de photographier l’apparence extérieure des choses mais cherche à atteindre le fantôme qui s’y cachait et qu’il fallait savoir trouver. Toute la partition de son film, en somme, est déjà écrite dans sa tête quand il commence à tourner, — confiée à l’infaillible mémoire de son instinct . Au contact de la réalité extérieure, il ne fait qu’ordonner les motifs de l’orchestration; et les images, qui semblent parfois de simples et faciles vues d’actualités, transmettent sans effort l’émotion première qui a fécondé son imagination.

Rossellini ne se laisse jamais submerger par la réalité qu’il affronte. Ce dragon épouvantable, armé de mille tentacules et dont tant de cinéastes sont la proie, lui, nouvel archange, il ne craint pas de l’aller débusquer de son antre pour le transpercer dans sa masse et en extraire, à la pointe de son épée, un cœur insoupçonné que lui seul avait entendu battre…

Fabrizi et Magnani avaient déjà joué ensemble; et sur un fond romain, le fond classique. Rossellini, hardiment, d’instinct, retourna la médaille de leurs interprétations de farce en dialecte et habilla le paysage touristique de la Ville éternelle de son plus sombre et plus moderne aspect de misère et de souffrance. La Magnani parlait toujours romanesque mais non plus pour faire rire; et elle tombait dans la rue, le ventre à l’air, abattue comme una pauvre chienne pleine.

Il y avait là du nouveau, mais du nouveau pris sur le vif et que seul Rossellini, certainement, pouvait retirer de la rubrique des faits divers pour le montrer dans la terrible vérité morale qu’il recélait. Les circonstances de la résistance à l’occupation de Rome, qui réunissent dans le sacrifice un prête et un communiste, élevées par le jugement de l’artiste sur le plan universel de la lutte entre le bien et le mal, se présentèrent, intactes dans leur bestialité ou leur noblesse, à la conscience des spectateurs qui oubliaient complètement qu’ils étaient au cinéma.

Antonio Pietrangeli

Annunci

Rome ville ouverte

Des visages comme ceux d’Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani, l’étonnante Maria Michi, le petit Vito Annicchiarico, Harry Feist, viennent peupler et hanter le souvenir du spectateur

Rome ville ouverte
Pina (Anna Magnani) et Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi) dans Rome, ville ouverte, une réalisation de Roberto Rossellini

On a parlé d’une renaissance du film italien. A ce point de vue, Rome, ville ouverte est mieux qu’une promesse: une véritable révélation. Nous nous souvenons de l’époque, pas bien lointaine, lorsqu’on se contentait de filmer sous l’admirable ciel d’Italie de grandes machines vides de sens comme Scipion l’Africain ou des niaiseries musicales, ou encore des mélos tapageurs, jouées avec emphase. Le film de Roberto Rossellini, lui, fait table rase  de tous ces procédés désuets et combien poussiéreux. Voici la vie talle qu’elle est. Voici des êtres humains qui souffrent, pleurent, agissent “normalement”. Voici encore un cadre magnifique: la Ville Eternelle; une toile de fond dont on a beaucoup abusé mais qui reste singulièrement émouvante lorsqu’on s’en sert comme l’a fait Rossellini: la guerre, les derniers jours de l’occupation allemande.

Par plus d’un point, Rome, ville ouverte est un film remarquable. Il a du style, un style sobre, bouleversant même à force de simplicité. Ces images ont souvent l’éloquence surprenante d’un film d’actualité. C’est dire que l’écueil du chiqué est évité. Il y a parfois une émotion un peu facile, mais on ne sombre jamais dans la grandiloquence ou l’exagération. Et c’est là qu’éclatent les mérites d’un jeune cinéaste qui n’a pas craint de nous montrer brutalement ce jeu de la vie et de la mort tel qu’il est vraiment. Il n’y pas, ici, d’espionne super-photogénique, de douce et immatérielle héroïne, de jeune premier-tombeur de cœurs. Il y a des visages durs, tendus par la volonté, tordus par l’anxiété, des visages de tous les jours qui ne recherchent pas les éclairages savants, mais qui s’offrent tels qu’ils sont: derrière ces visages il y a une âme.

Le sujet? Y a-t-il un sujet proprement dit? Sergio Amidei a regardé ce qui s’est passé autour de lui; il a tissé solidement ensemble le destin de plusieurs “petites gens” à la veille de se libérer du joug nazi qui les oppresse. Les Alliés ne sont pas loin. Rome a été déclarée ville ouverte. Mais innombrables sont les petits drames qui se jouent fans les rues et ruelles de l’antique cité. Et non moins poignants sont ceux qui se déroulent dans le cœur de cette poignée d’individus sur lesquels le scénariste a centré son attention.

Roberto Rossellini a exploité à fond les possibilités du cinéma; le rythme nerveux de son film, sa façon de conte, de cueillir tel détail pittoresque, d’éclairer tel décor, tout cela nous émeut et nous enchante. Et l’interprétation aussi. Des visages comme ceux d’Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani, l’étonnante Maria Michi, le petit Vito Annicchiarico, Harry Feist, tant d’autres encore, viennent peupler et hanter le souvenir du spectateur. Il n’est pas beaucoup de films dont on peut en dire autant.

Paul Deglin
Paris, Février 1947

Anna Magnani at the Venice Film Festival

Compared with Anna Magnani Brando is like a normal all-American college boy

Anna Magnani Venice Film Festival 1956
Anna Magnani, Venice Film Festival 1956

Venice, September 1956

Who is the Queen of the Film Festival here — a busty blonde with flexible hips and sun-bronzed limbs? Not this time.

She is a fifty-three-year-old woman with straggly hair and dark ringed eyes who can swear prodigiously in six different languages — and is learning fast. Her name is Anna Magnani. I regard her as the greatest actress on any screen today.

The Italians love her, idolize her, worship her — with the sacrificial adoration Lollobrigida can never enjoy.

Look what happened when Anna walked through the Hotel Excelsior foyer on to the sunlit terrace here today.

The sun — worshipping producer — chasing teenagers reclined hopefully and horizontally on the beach. Suddenly Magnani swept in and sat down at a table. There was a general stampede. Nearly every Italian on the beach, on the terrace and in the foyer rushed to get near her. Thirty kissed her hand in about as many seconds. One man fell on his knees. The smiling Magnani yelled (in Italian) “Arise, Sir!” — although not quite like a queen at an investiture.

Meanwhile, all the bikini babes were left deserted on the beach — very glum in the sun.

Finally, with a huge crowd chanting “Anna Anna!” the fifty-three-year-old actress sailed off in a motor-boat with a twenty-year-old boy friend.

Anna Magnani has burst upon this funereal festival looking like a guerrilla leader at a fancy dress party — or, alternatively, like an animated hand grenade from which the pin has just been removed.

The “magnificent Magnani,” and Oscar winner with her first Hollywood film, Rose Tattoo got a bigger reception than Lollobrigida from the fans. She went through them like a tank, scowling furiously.

Everybody was amazed that she had come including Magnani herself. Junketing in the sand is not her speciality. She signs autographs with as much relish as if they were death warrants. She could get claustrophobia in the middle of the Pacific.

Yet when she came out on the sun terraces the whispers were that Hollywood made Magnani more reasonable.

It was said with an air of disappointment, for nobody expects or wants a great eccentric to be reasonable.

When Magnani was first asked to come here she refused out-right. She said, with splendid arrogance: “If they wish to give me the prize they can do it without me being there. They gave me the Oscar without my being Hollywood.”

Sandro Pallavicini, the producer of her latest film, pleaded with her to change her mind, but she was adamant. The matter was referred to Tennessee Williams for arbitration. He said she should go to the festival, so she came.

Magnani arrived with her young friend, Gabriele Tinti, a 22-year-old actor, who is said to be the James Dean of Italy.

After the showing of her film Sister Letizia, she had dinner with Tinti, Pallavicini and his wife, and James Mason and his wife, but that junior eccentric, Portland Mason, was not there.

In the middle of the dinner there was a typical Magnani incident.

She began to upbraid her young friend, Tinti. He comes from Bologna and his accent is not purely Roman as Magnani would like it to be.

“You have to learn to speak properly,” she told him fierce’y. “You must learn to get rid of that terrible accent if you wish to be a star you must pay attention to what I say.”

The others were a little pained by this scene, but after all this was Magnani and with her there is no knowing what she will do or say next. To be a genius and a woman is a formidable combination. Italy is well aware of this.

Now that she is becoming and international star the rest of the world will have to preparate itself for a new  personality who, by comparison, makes Brando look like a normal all-American college boy.

I offer you this introduction to Magnani so that you will know what to expect. For three years she has not made an Italian film. This is partly because she had not found a worthwhile subject and partly because most of the directors are terrified of her.

A famous, but none the less disconcerting Magnani phrase during the making of a film is “I do not feel to work to-day.”

I was told by Pallavicini that for a time nobody wished to make a film with her. There is always a quarrel between her and the director. She will have to become a director herself. It is the only solution.

Fir three years she had to sit back and watch all the other little actresses like Lollobrigida and Loren go up and up while she had to wait and wait.

“What does she think od Lollobrigida and Loren?” I asked. “It is better not to tell you.” he said. He added: “You should not misunderstand. She is very reasonable with people she trusts. The trouble is that she does not trust anybody. She always thinks they want to cheat her.”

I asked: “Is she arrogant?”

“Yes,” he said, “she is a woman of arrogance. She has no humility at all. For an artist I think this is not a bad thing. For a woman — well, it can make life difficult sometimes. For the men, her arrogance comes out of a complex. When she meets somebody new she is always very cold, but later, if she is happy, she warms up.”

“Is she often happy?”

“No, not often, perhaps fifty per cent of the time. But she likes to be happy because when she is happy she knows she can look beautiful.”

“Does she think she is a beautiful woman?” “No, but she thinks she has a great sex appeal.”

“Does she dress well?” “Jewelry, big huge diamonds. She is a very rich woman. She has jewelry worth.”

I said: “She sounds fascinating. I have admired her enormously. I would like to meet her.” “That,” said Pallavicini “is impossible. She is sick.  When she does not want to do something she becomes sick.”

He looked at me and gave a worried smile. “If you ask her what you ask me, she will have a relapse.”

A Volcano Called Anna

Her name is Anna Magnani, and I met her in Rome. Hers is about the best-known face in Italy. She is a film star.

Anna Magnani in Volcano (1950)

Rome, January 1950

A new film called Volcano will be show in Rome next week. Il will tell the story of a woman. But it is the story of the woman behind the film which I’d like you to hear.

Her name is Anna Magnani, and I met her in Rome. Hers is about the best-known face in Italy. She is a film star.

Once, she used to play comedy stuff. She used to carry around quite a few pounds of weight that weren’t absolutely necessary. She used to say that her face was her fortune “because it is ugly and ridiculous.”

When I sat talking to her in her flat the other day, she was slim and had a curious sort of beauty. She had also become a passionate, dramatic actress, and had made a movie which she privately thinks will kick the movie world sideways with surprise.

And thereby hangs the tale I’m going to tell you.

A year ago this month, she was lunching in the Excelsior Hotel, Rome, with a film director called Roberto Rossellini. This Rossellini had directed her in pictures, and had gone as far to indicate — in the modest way Italians have — that he was her inspiration. The way Rossellini figured it to his pals was that while Miss Magnani was a pretty good actress, she needed his direction to add the genius touch.

During lunch they were talking about a film which Rossellini was to direct — and in which Miss Magnani might star — called Stromboli.

Miss Magnani was pretty happy. She had told her friends that, in her opinion, she and Rossellini might even be married as soon as they were both divorced.

She didn’t know that Rossellini had in his pocket a letter saying that Ingrid Bergman would like to work for him.

Rossellini got up from the table and went to the airport. He stepped on a plane and flew to America.

Next day he was dining with Ingrid Bergman, arranging for Ingrid to star in his new film called Stromboli.

Anna waited for a while, at the Excelsior in Rome.

At first she didn’t quite realise what had happened. Gradually the truth became too clear to be blinked at. Rossellini was definitely taking Bergman to the lonely, volcanic island of Stromboli to make the film of that name. In fact, they were there.

For two months Anna sat quiet, thinking, doing nothing else.

Then, suddenly, she moved into action with all the passion of a Latin.

She rushed round to her script writer and producer, Renzo Avanzo. He had written Stromboli.

“I want another script for a film to be made on a lonely, volcanic island,” she said, without a smile. “And I want the theme to show what men are really like. We’ll make it on the island of Volcano. And we’ll call it Volcano.”

Now, the island of Volcano is just four miles across the sea from the island of Stromboli. If the wind is in the right direction you can shout from one to t’other.

Anna Magnani and the unit started in the film a full two months behind “the firm next door.” It seemed impossible that they could ever catch up on such a lead.

But Anna worked with a speed that nobody had ever seen her use before.

All through the shooting of the film she stayed on the side of Volcano from which it was not possible to see Stromboli.

Not until her work was done did she walk across the island and look across at Stromboli. A few friends stood by, silently. But Anna didn’t say anything. She just put her tongue in the direction of the island over the way — and blew a colossal raspberry.

She had finished her movie dead on time with Rossellini‘s. But Anna had spoken her part in Italian, and she wanted this film dubbed in English, for world showing. Dubbing by someones else would take a long time.

So Anna learned English — just like that — in about a fortnight. And she dubbed the picture herself. So she was still neck and neck with Rossellini.

Today, Anna sits in her apartment in Rome, and waits restlessly for the picture to be processed.

The Italian version will be premiered in Rome next week. Nobody has seen it yet.

Several people have seen the Rossellini-Bergman picture, Stromboli, which is still having the technical jobs finished in America. They say it’s good, astonishingly good.

Anna doesn’t sat so — but she thinks her film is better.

Noel Whitcomb

Stanley Kramer’s The Secret of Santa Vittoria

Stanley Kramer examined some 165 villages over a period of four months before finding Anticoli Corrado

Rosa (Anna Magnani) The Secret of Santa Vittoria
Anna Magnani as Rosa (The Secret of Santa Vittoria 1969)

November 1968

Anticoli Corrado is normally a quiet village. Thirty-five miles out of Rome, it is perched on a 2,000 ft peak among the mountains of the Appeninni Abruzzesi. Before this year it had been overrun by invaders three times. Around 700 AD Saracens decided it was a safe place to camp as it was well stocked with water and firewood. Some 600 years later the Normans took it over. The Germans invaded it twice, in both World Wars, Uniformed Germans were to be seen yet again this summer in the steep, narrow streets of the village, part of an invading force of some 500 people. This time the invasion was unaggressive, though not exactly peaceful. Commands echoed through the streets and across the piazza, and the inhabitants lined up. The invasion’s general, with his aides, inspected the lines, returned to his platform, and issued the instruction ‘Azione!’ To say that chaos ensued would be an understatement. Carts, jackasses and people would dash madly in all directions. Wagon-loads of bottles crash into each other and disintegrate. People scream abuse and snarl at each other. The command of ‘Cut!’ and relative order is restored.

Stanley Kramer examined some 165 villages over a period of four months before finding Anticoli Corrado, which he decided best fitted the name part for his The Secret of Santa Vittoria. Although Santa Vittoria is a real village in the province of Cuneo, post-war development there made it impossible for Kramer to shoot his film in its ‘original’ setting.

The film was proving to be a very strenuous task for Kramer, who apart from directing the film, which meant handling over 500 villagers in a scene as well as the main actors, he had the problems of organising his own army of 500: the actors, the crew and their families, and the re-wiring of the village to withstand the demands of their equipment. Evidently before that if an electric razor was plugged in the village was plunged into darkness. But the biggest technical problem for Kramer was that of sound recording, since he was determined to use only live sound, and here he was working in a country which dubs all its films. And to be able to get complete silence in an village that could not comprehend his necessity was quite a task. But, with patience, it was eventually achieved.

Kramer was filming in Anticoli Corrado for almost three months, living in a villa just a few yards from the village square where all the main crowd sequences took place. He said he felt like a bullfighter going to face the bull in the arena every morning when he walked into the piazza. Like the problems of sound recording, just getting each member of the crowd to do the right thing at the right moment in a village completely ignorant of the requirements of film-making was an ordeal. There were other minor problems; for instance, the fact that one-third of the villagers were against the film being made there, since the company had been given permission by the mayor for whom only two-thirds of the population had voted. So some would go and sit down in the middle of the ‘set’ and hold up production. The unit could’t bribe them to keep out of the way, otherwise the idea might have caught on with others, and the local police were a little powerless since, as they pointed out, they had to live there after the film unit had gone.

One of the most violent and complicated scenes they had to shoot was where everyone tries to hide his wine at once when they hear that the Germans are coming, and their hilarious and disastrous traffic jam which results in the piazza convincing Bombolini (Anthony Quinn) that it won’t work without a plan. Kramer had assembled 500 villagers, fifty jackasses, a hundred vehicles of all kinds and some 30,000 bottles of wine for a scene with Quinn, Magnani, Sergio Franchi and Giancarlo Giannini. Anna Magnani, dozing under an umbrella, suddenly jerks her head up, rolls her eyes and groans as only she can, ‘Ah, Di, fa caldo’ (God, it’s hot!). It is her first English-speaking film in nearly ten years. ‘This rehearsal business, I don’t like, believe me!’ she said. ‘My best scene is the first time: from then on I go downhill, you watch.’

Villages, jackasses and people collided with each other after Kramer had set the take in motion. In the midst of all the confusion Quinn and Magnani snarled eyeball to eyeball at each other in front of the Fountain of the Pissing Turtle. Quinn, in his excitement, tripped and fell into the fountain, Magnani broke up and Kramer yelled, ‘Cut!’ Two villagers fighting in the background evidently didn’t hear the command and when one accidentally received a finger in the eye, he retaliated by wrapping a wheelbarrow around the other’s head, leaving him with a large lump and trickle of blood. Village police broke up the fight and led the two away. Magnani rehearsed the scene again with Quinn. ‘If you call this rehearsal business ‘going downhill’, Anna, then Heaven save me,’ said Quinn. Then to Kramer, ‘She’s getting stronger and better each time we do it.’ Quinn made a face at Magnani who replied by throwing a bucket of water over him.

One of Kramer‘s favourite stories about Anna Magnani occurred in his office in Rome shortly before he started shooting. Kramer asked that coffee be sent in. In the meantime, Magnani went on about how she loved ‘sophisticated men, you know, the type who shave, smell nice and wear elegant clothes’. Her comments did little to lessen the tense air. Kramer fidgeted, Magnani cleared her throat. Then the coffee arrived. Magnani tkok a sip.

‘Where did you get this coffee, Mr Kramer?’

‘From the studio restaurant,’ answered Kramer, anxious to gain a rapport.

She retorted: ‘Well, eet steenks!’

When Magnani has to act the enraged woman in a scene it is quite an event. The camera was set in motion. Something Quinn said pulled the trigger. Magnani‘s lips pulled back in scorn and her deep green eyes flashed with fury. Then came the explosion. Suddenly Quinn was reeling out of the room towards the door beneath a shower of pots, pans, mops and kettles. She was shouting. “And again, you snivelling great hulk of a man. Get out of my sight and out of my life forever!’

Quinn, now in full retreat, protested, ‘I’m ashamed of you. OUCH!’ He staggered to the door and outside, but not in time to dodge a cascade of fettucini over his head and down his neck. Then, from an upstairs window, a shower of pillows, clothing, suitcases, shoes, pots, pictures and other things came flying through the air and down on top of him. A thousand men, women and children were gathered in the piazza to witness the final insult as the outraged Magnani appeared with a large pot in her hand.

‘You didn’t have a pot when you came here…’ she shouted. With deadly accuracy she bounced the old-fashioned chamber pot off Quinn. Other actors raced to the rescue, and Kramer shouted, ‘Cut!’ It was the kind of scene Magnani likes best.

‘I’ve had plenty of practice, she said.

Robin Bean

Jean Cocteau raconte: La Voix humaine

Anna Magnani - La Voix humaine

Paris Mai 1947

«Tout se passe dans la même chambre et, même, la caméra quitte rarement le lit, explique Jean Cocteau. Nous avons tourné la pièce, exactement, et pourtant nous n’avons pas fait ce qu’il est convenu d’appeler du theatre filmé. Paisà est un chef-d’oeuvre où un peuple s’exprime par un homme et un homme par un peuple. J’ai confié La Voix humaine à Roberto Rossellini parce qu’il a la grâce et qu’il ne s’encombre d’aucune des règles mortes qui régissent le cinématographe. En vingt-cinq prises dont le total fait mille deux cents mètres de pellicule, il a tourné cruellement un documentaire de la souffrance d’une femme. Anna Magnani y montre une âme, une figure sans maquillage. Ce documentaire pourrait s’intituler: Femme dévorée par une jeune fille ou Du téléphone considéré comme un instrument de torture. Anna Magnani tourne en italien. Elle se doublera en français, elle-même».

Cocteau déclarait récemment en présence de Rossellini: «Je déplore que les jeunes ne jouissent pas de liberté qu’ils méritent. En attendant, puisque nous pouvons tout nous permettre, c’est à nous d’en profiter… Je fais ici ce que j’ai envie de faire au moment où j’en ai envie… La Voix humaine sera le contraire de ce qu’on a l’habitude d’appeler “du cinéma”, ce sera peut-être un film d’avant-garde, puisqu’il est réalisé dans un style qui “ne se fait pas”, comme on dit».

L’oeuvre achevée, Cocteau récrit maintenant son propre texte d’après les paroles prononcées en italien par Anna Magnani. Il fait donc du doublage, procedé détesté et détestable quand il sert à traduire mécaniquement, à froid, un dialogue prononcé, à chaud, par des acteurs étrangers. Mais il est surprenant qu’on ait négligé d’utiliser le doublage à des fins artistiques.

Open City premiere at the World Theatre

Open City at the World Theatre New York, February 1946

New York, February 1946

Open City premiere at the World Theater on Feb. 25 at 8:30 p.m.

The first full length feature to come out of Rome since its liberation in June, 1944, Open City was previewed Wednesday afternoon for the press in New York. Mayer- Burstyn will release the picture in this country and it will have its first public showing Monday night at the World Theatre in New York for the benefit of the Godparents Committee for Italian War Orphans.

Produced by a group of Italians with black market film and captured German camera and sound equipment, the film depicts the terror of the Nazis and Fascists loosed against the underground movement in Rome between September, 1943, when the Germans took over Rome and declared it an open city, until its liberation less than a year later. The story is based on actual incidents, giving the picture an air of authenticity. Currently Open City is Italy’s biggest box office success.

Running more than 100 minutes, Open City is the film record of the trials and tribulations of an underground leader, and a priest sympathetic to the partisan movement, and of their unrelenting struggle with the Nazi-Fascist regime. What Hollywood leaves to shadows and silhouettes, the Italian director Rossellini puts into closeups, which catch with grim realism the tortures and cruelties of the Germans and Fascists.

Said to be a true indictment of life in Rome during the Nazi occupation, the film is slower at times than most Hollywood pictures, but faster than most European counterparts. English subtitles have been superimposed, making the story easy to follow.