Il Generale Della Rovere
New on DVD
Reviewed by Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 10, 2009
Il Generale Della RovereThe Criterion Collection, $29.95
Perhaps overregarded in its time yet all but neglected in the intervening years, Roberto Rossellini's Il Generale Della Rovere is due for a fresh assessment now that we approach the 50th anniversary of its initial release, and Criterion has helpfully made the film available once again with this new restoration. This Italian film won the Golden Lion (the top prize) at the 1959 Venice Film Festival and secured a reputation as Rossellini's comeback film. To this day, Rossellini is still best recognized internationally as the father of neorealism for his 1945 film, Rome, Open City. But Rossellini's Forties acclaim was followed by a decade of more "experimental" films, and his reputation during those years was dragged down by the worldwide scandal that dogged his sexual affairs, marriages, and divorces. Il Generale Della Rovere marked a return to more conventional filmmaking for Rossellini. The plot is based on the true story of an apolitical con artist who schemed against both the partisans and the fascists during the war and was eventually imprisoned by the fascists, reportedly in order to spy for them. He discovers his conscience in prison prior to his death by firing squad. Named Emanuele Bardone in the movie, the role is agilely played by Italy's No. 2 neorealist, Vittorio De Sica (who, despite being best known on these shores as the director of Bicycle Thieves, was a popular actor with more than 150 titles to his credit). Fully more than half the movie is devoted to Bardone's con jobs before Rossellini turns to the prison half of the story. The filming often seems a jumble of styles: studio artifice and documentary footage. It's this disjointed filmmaking that causes retrospective suspicion of the vast acclaim the movie received at the time of its release. However, it's also the thing that makes Il Generale Della Rovere such an interesting case study when looking at Rossellini's career. In a few years, Rossellini would focus his career toward making detailed historical works for Italian television. Il Generale Della Rovere is clearly the work that bridges our understanding of Rossellini's move from neorealism to artificial realism.