The film pioneer Roberto Rossellini (who married Ingrid Bergman and fathered acclaimed actress Isabella Rossellini) thought there was something more important about his films than their new, experimental style. In a 1954 interview with Maurice Scherer and Francois Truffaut in the influential Cahiers du Cinema, Rossellini insisted that what made his films distinctive had less to do with his cinema style than with his approach to his subject matter. "For me," he said, "it is above all a moral standpoint from which to view the world. Afterwards it becomes an aesthetic standpoint, but the point of departure is definitely moral."
It's now 35 years after Rossellini's death, and closing in on the seventieth anniversary of the post-war trilogy (Rome Open City; Paisan; Germany, Year Zero) that cemented his reputation. And his films are more important than ever. They're a stark contrast with our own cultural landscape. Today, spectacle is king and filmmakers need celebrities to ensure box-office payoffs for their franchises. But Rossellini reminds us that film can challenge our assumptions and make us wrestle with moral questions.
Rossellini is one of the pioneers of the Italian neorealism movement in film. Stylistically, "neorealism" usually refers to shooting on location, using non-professional actors, and - importantly - not relying on what Scherer and Truffaut refer to in their interview as "cinematic effects." This isn't just the absence of special effects; it's a kind of impassive tone. They say of Rossellini's films that they "don't give special emphasis to important moments" and that they "place everything on the same level of intensity." ...1