Por causa de uma retrospectiva iniciada neste mês e dedicada ao cinema do Roberto Rossellini, em BFI, Isabella foi entrevista pela Guardian, para uma enorme e interessante conversa ao redor do cinema.
GA: Rome, Open City, which people here have just been watching, is probably your father’s most famous film and was hugely influential, starting off the neo-realist movement. Do you think we have any idea of what a revelation it must have been at the time, because it must have been extraordinary?
IR: Well I think that you have to think that cinema came from magic shows, and still today it has a little bit of the soul that “we are going to impress you; there’s going to be colour, there are going to be special effects” and much more so in the 40s when Hollywood had its moment of great triumph, of fantasy, of entertainment and romance. My father was using film as a tool of knowledge, of revelation, even a tool to just show what was happening in Italy. My father always said that he didn’t sit down with Visconti and say, “Let’s invent this new art form called neo-realism”; they just did the film that they could do and the urge to tell the world what they had seen was the urge; it was an artistic urge, it was really a cry to humanity: “This is what war is; this is what we went through.” And that was very impactful because it was the voice of the enemy speaking. Italy was fascist and neo-realism had this redeeming quality: the Italians were finally seen as not just fascists but as human beings.
GA: It’s funny because Federico Fellini said that when Rome: Open City was made, the condition that Rome was in, it was very difficult to even get the film together, to get the stock. And Fellini wrote that neo-realism was a necessity of the situation that film was shot it. But for your father, it seems to have been more than that; it seems to have been very much a choice, not so much human realism as a quest for the truth. I think it’s quite strange that with later films a lot of people felt he was abandoning the tenets of neo-realism and going into something else, but some people, and I think they were right, said: “No, he was still making films about the truth, but it was a different sort of truth.”
IR: I think it’s hard to define truth, but he used film as an instrument of knowledge, as a way to understand. My father used to say that you could only access culture before cinema by learning to read and write, but that once cinema was invented, knowledge was available to anybody. He always said to me that film was as important as the discovery of fire for the primitive man. And so he wanted to use this medium in its fullest potential. And that is true throughout his films. When he did neo-realism and it became so successful people wanted him to keep on doing films about the war in Italy and he felt that that was not the reality that was in front of him any more and he wasn’t interested, and he was seeking for another revelation; something else to communicate. And I think it became quite clear at the end of his life, when he made historical biographies like Louis XIV. His dream came true: he thought that people could get a lot of information about Louis XIV, Pascal, Jesus, Socrates etc in an hour. His next project, that he was unable to realise, was a film on science. He wanted to simplify science and make it accessible to everyone through pictures. And throughout my childhood he sent me out to out to fish sea urchins, because it was easy to catch them and then get sperm and eggs and mix them and photograph what was happening. He was experimenting at home with the simplest way to do science; all this was done in our kitchen. Today you would have the National Geographic helping you, but this was a long time ago and Italy was too poor.