general rovere’s ride

Complicity and redemption…

It might not be comparable to Open City, but General Della Rovere by Rossellini, for its meanings and its movements, had to be taken seriously. After the initial drive of italian neo-realimo picures poured forth in the wake of WWII-Rossellini, Zampa, Fellini, De Sico- Italian cinema also succumbed to the decorative and cosmetic nature of Hollywood film; tasteless, money spinning sex, crimes and melodrama, pin-ups like Sophia Loren and the general anesthetic of postwar amnesia.

The action takes place in 1943 and devolves around the metamorphosis of a picayune four-flusher into a decent man and a patriot. In Genoa, during the occupation, Emanuele Bardone, played by Vittorio de Sica, poses as a Colonel Grimaldi, an influential wirepuller who can effect the release of imprisoned partisans, and to this end he bilks their wives and kinsmen for the petty cash he needs to gamble and remain in good standing in the brothels. His knavery is handily discovered by Colonel Mueller- Hans Messemer- the SS commander in Genoa, and under pain of death Bardone is forced into a new and, this time, Machiavellian masquerade.

---Vittorio De Sica is Emanuele Bardone, an opportunistic rascal in wartime Genoa, conning his fellow Italians and exploiting their tragedies by promising to help find their missing loved ones in exchange for money. But when the Nazis force him to impersonate a dead partisan general in prison to extract information from fellow inmates, Bardone finds himself wrestling with his conscience for the first time. The movie is based on a book by journalist Indro Montanelli, inspired by true events.--- Read More:

The Wehrmacht has learned that the anti-fascist General Della Rovere is to land from a british submarine in the occupied zone, thence to make himself known to the leader of the underground, a man named Fabrizio, with whom he will plan the partisan strategy as the germans retreat and the Allies advance. Through a miscarriage of orders the general is shot by the Nazis immediately on his getting to shore, and Mueller’s hope to learn Fabrizio’s identity is dashed. But only temporarily.

By promising Bardone money and safe conduct to Switzerland, the german inveigles him into impersonating Della Rovere. Bardone is taken to a political prison, and there, for the other inmates, who know only the name of the general, he persuasively plays the role of military hero and unforgiving enemy of the Germans. The valedectories of men  about to die, scratched on the walls of the prison; the howls of the tortured, refusing to inform, that reverberates through the cell blocks; the awed respect of the prisoners for the man he is supposed to be, gradually begin to instill the amoral, apolitical, yellow, small-time crook with character. And in the end, though he has the opportunity to expose Fabrizio to Mueller and to go free, he chooses to face a firing squad and thus end with grandeur a scrubby life.

---This sequence shot entrance into the Wehrmacht headquarters resolutely says “no,” with a sudden clarity expressed entirely through cinematographic means. Without an event, that is, without a dramatic scene that tells or shows us what Bardone does for a living, the way the man navigates the space in this scene finally gives Il Generale’s viewers a concrete sense of this man’s position in those most morally ambiguous of 20th century settings. The single-take shot emphasizes his mobility between the Italians and the Germans, the sufferers and the oppressors, the needy and the powerful, and De Sica’s performance gives Bardone the airs of a man who knows he doesn’t fit in with the crowd of supplicants and feels uncomfortable waiting with them. By funneling our lead character through a carefully defined space of architecture, of society, and of emotion, Rossellini in a single scene, in a single shot, brings into sharp clarity all that has so far been unspoken about Italian collaboration during the Second World War.--- Read More:

The ingredients are hardly novel. Teutonic hatchet men are overly familiar but still unimpeachably detestable cinematic villains. The understatement of the suffering of innocents, the camaraderie of men in jail, the triumph of love of country over self-aggrandizement, the courageous acceptance of implacable destiny—all these basic elements of tragedy are skillfully and brilliantly employed.

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