There has been a lot of talk about the freedom of expression/censorship dichotomy, following the dramatic events that took place in Paris in the last few days. Film fans must have been thinking about this connection in cinema upon hearing the news that director Francesco Rosi - known for his investigative films that searched for the truth and quite often angered many people in power - had died yesterday in Rome.
Born in Naples on 15th November 1922, Rosi loved children's illustrations and studied law, before meeting Luchino Visconti and finding his true vocation - cinema. Rosi became Visconti's assistant on La terra trema (The Earth Trembles, 1948), screenwriter on Bellissima (1952), and collaborator on Senso (The Wanton Contessa, 1954).
In 1957 he shot his first film, La sfida (The Challenge), but while the latter borrowed from Visconti, with Salvatore Giuliano (1962), Rosi launched a new and original style.
He set indeed to tell the story of bandit Giuliano and tell the truth about it via a fictional recreation, suspending the narration between realistic film and investigation.
With Le mani sulla città (Hands Over the City, 1963) - a great "architectural film" that won him the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival - he took his audiences onto a journey through the Italy of the boom years, analysing the real estate exploitation and the connections between the State and criminal oganisations.
After taking a break from politically-engaged films at the end of the '60s with C'era un volta (Cinderella: Italian Style/More than a Miracle, 1967), he returned to the genre with Uomini contro (Many Wars Ago, 1970), a manifesto against the war, followed by Il caso Mattei (The Mattei Affair, 1972).
Starring intensely iconic Gian Maria Volonté, the film attempted to find the truth behind the mysterious death of the president of ENI (the Italian state oil company) Enrico Mattei, an event that marked Italian history. The puzzle-like documentary style of this film is particularly interesting: Rosi used flashbacks, photographs, interviews and starred in it as himself, a director looking for the truth and finding too many lies. The film shared the Palme d'Or at Cannes with Elio Petri's La classe operaia va in Paradiso (Lulu the Tool, 1971), also starring Volonté.
The actor worked again with Rosi on Lucky Luciano (1973) and Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1979), the latter taken from the eponymous novel by Carlo Levi, while Cadaveri Eccellenti (Illustrious Corpses, 1976), was adapted from Leonardo Sciascia's novel Il contesto.
Film after film, Rosi took a pledge with his audiences: he would look for the truth and, when he wouldn't have been able to find it, he would have still presented a solid research behind his stories.
As the years passed, while his family drama Tre fratelli (Three Brothers, 1981), was nominated for an Academy award for best foreign language film, Rosi continued to tell stories of power and corruption such as Dimenticare Palermo (The Palermo Connection, 1990), but also adapted Georges Bizet's Carmen (1984) and Gabriel García Márquez's novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Cronaca di una morte annunciata, 1987), shooting his last film, La tregua (The Truce), from Primo Levi's novel, in 1997. In the 2000s he dedicated himself to the theatre.
While Rosi became famous for the two main principles behind his films - research and documentation - it should also be highlighted that he was a stylish director: his frames were meticulously composed, something that he learnt from Luchino Visconti. The camera often lingered on the physical details of his characters and on the impeccable costumes donned by some of them that should be considered as important as the actual screenplays for the films (think about Volonté as Mattei or or Lucky Luciano in his perfect suits that had to represent the power embodied by these characters).
Rosi was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Film Festival in 2012 (in the same year The Mattei Affair was restored by Martin Scorsese's non-profit organization, The Film Foundation, with support from Gucci).
The Director of the Venice Film Festival, Alberto Barbera, declared in that occasion: "In his long though not very prolific career, Rosi has left an indelible mark on the history of Italian film-making after World War II. His work has influenced generations of film-makers around the world for its method, style, moral severity and the ability to bring urgent social issues onto the screen. For this reason he has repeatedly been associated with post-war Neorealism and is considered the founding father of the activist film movement that was so important to our national production in the Sixties and Seventies. In comparison with Neo-realism, which was so influential in his cultural education, Rosi's cinema went much further in its deliberate intent to combine a keen proclivity for narrating real events, people and places with what Fellini defined as 'the great crafting heritage of good American cinema'".
In 2014 Rosi took part in the film Born in the U.S.E. (Born in the United States of Europe), co-produced by Renzo Rossellini and directed by Michele Diomà, while Lucky Luciano was among the films included last year in the Monditalia section at the 14th Venice International Architecture Exhibition.
Married to the late Giancarla Mandelli, sister of fashion designer Krizia, and survived by a daughter, actress Carolina Rosi, Francesco Rosi will be commemorated tomorrow with a civil ceremony at the Casa del Cinema (House of Cinema) in Rome.
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