My Gleanings

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Antonioni, Rossellini, Visconti Cahiers May 1962

In May 1962, Cahiers du Cinema published a special issue on the "Situation of Italian Cinema". As other Cahiers special issues of that era, one article was dedicated to a group of directors. In this case forty-eight directors were provided with capsule filmographies and biographies and a thumbnail critique. In a departure from their usual practice of listing the directors alphabetically, three directors were for their eminence placed at the head of the listing. They were Michelangelo Antonioni, Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti. The thumbnail critiques were pretty much the work of André Labarthe with some help on the Rossellini and Visconti thumbnails from Jean Douchet. The translations are mine.
Michelangelo Antonioni
from Cahiers du Cinema May 1962 (page 52)
“He has not had good fortune with filmgoers; a cursed filmmaker for ten years, here he is the filmmaker in fashion. That is to say quite as under-appreciated or at least quite as misunderstood. Publicity makes him out as the man of the new frisson just as a short while ago it made him out as Ingmar Bergman. In fact, Antonioni’s work is strangely secret. Beyond its immediately discernable qualities -- the quavering of the writing, the sense of being stripped bare, a pathetic relentlessness to express oneself, the morbid will to show man’s compulsions.
“From “Story of a Love Affair“, this man has devoted his life to his art and his subsequent work will be the deeper for this relationship and its elucidation. In order of the appearance, the admirable intelligence of “Tentato Suicido” (a sketch in “Love in the City”), which let’s say in passing our more intransigent Brechtians will do well to meditate on, is equaled only by the remarkable sense of rhythm which “” and “L’Avventura” bear witness to. This sense which consists of adjusting the rhythm of his work to the rhythm of the pace of man. Yes, rhythm here is a spiritual affair and if this work, at the end of accounts, breathes, it is at the exact level that this man has himself chosen to live. ONe thinks of what Flaubert confided to his friemd Poittevin, “I believe I understand one thing, it is that happiness for the people of our race is in the idea and not elsewhere. Do like me, break with the exterior.”
Cahiers du Cinema May 1962 (page 52)
Roberto Rossellini
from Cahiers du Cinema May 1962 (page 53)
“Because he is deeply humanistic and wants to be the lucid witness of our times, because he is curious about all things with a remarkable synthetic intelligence, we have too much of a tendency to forget Rossellini is a poet who situates himself under the sign of the most passionate of elements -- fire.
“To grasp the importance of this element, as much in the themes as in the style of this filmmaker would allow his devotees to let themselves becomes outdistanced, since he turned the corner twice abruptly. the first time with “Stromboli” where he abandoned the constat of his epoque to tackle the problems of a couple. the second with “General Della Rovere” which inaugurates a series of historical films favoring reflection on the reasons behind political activity and commitment.
“It is not as simple as being aware of a visible fire as the volcano of “Stromboli”, the idea of a creator God who draws to himself his creatures or that of Brother Ginepro whose faith feeds the fires in the camp of the tyrant Nicholas (“The Flowers of Saint Francis“) or that of “Voyage in Italy” below the surface and communicating awaiting only for a chance to flame up and unite the individual parties, or that of “Joan at the Stake”. But most of all an interior fire which smolders in each of his heroes, often without their knowledge and racks them, either by lifting them up to the light or by consuming them, as Anna Magnani in “The Human Voice”.
From then on, all impulses so particular to Rosselini, which bond the characters to their settings sustaining this interior fire which animates them. But it is most of all through the luminosity of the image that Rosselini makes us sense the differing resonances of the fire he means to describe. Cold and lunar-like in “Germany Year Zero” which tells us of a death in a family and of rebirth by the sacrifice of an innocent who passes the flame on or in the other Nordic film “Fear”, dry and concentrated in “Envy” (sketch from the 1951 version of “The Seven Deadly Sins), crushingly clear in “Stromboli”, hazy and gray in “General Della Rovere”, nocturnal and returning on itself in “Escape by Night”, lively and bursting in “Viva L’Italia”, and so on. This luminosity expresses the poetic vision of Rossellini”
Cahiers du Cinema May 1962 (page 53)
Luchino Visconti
from Cahiers du Cinema May 1962 (page 53)
“Visconti finds in himself only violent contradictions. Quite at the same time, individualist and humanitarian, aristocrat and communist, esthete and activist, this keen awareness of quality becomes the motive them of his work. An immediate and visible beauty envelops his characters, they feel it like the promise of a possible, and actually reasonable, paradise. But this feeling of hope awakens in them passions which, in the end, get the better of them, separate them from their goals and undo them, only “Bellissima” which describes a paasion exvlusively ebgaged in revealing a latent beauty, succeeds, while parting from the ugliness and banality, in discovering and establishing this beauty which concerns all that it is.
“In his work’s evolution, Visconti shows a realization more and more clear cut in its intentions. From “Ossessione” to “Rocco and his Brothers”, the tack passes from “wanting to make beautiful” to “wanting to make true”. “Ossessione” or “La Terra Trema” subject their characters to conditions, indeed natural, but clad as a function of esthetic effects which constitute the principal of its pursuits.This does not occur without a certain hieratism which runs contrary to the true dynamic of the feelings. “Rocco and his Brothers”, on the other hand, aims, firstly, to follow the characters in the conditions of their existence and then to depict the resulting drama, its beauty being gripped as if by chance. The aim, there, is to demonstrate that the possible Eden-like beauty of this earth can not be looked for in the ideal, nor in the provocation of instincts, nor in the sullen acceptance of the everyday, but, on the contrary, in the battle for the improvement of their conditions of existence, suppressing, by the same token, the source of the torment.”
from Cahiers du Cinema May 1962 (page 53)

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