One of the most influential directors in the history of cinema, Roberto Rossellini (1906-1977) had a curious career. Its first, most famous phase begin in 1945 with Open City, and continued with Paisan and Germany Year Zero; employing a documentary-like visual directness, these postwar films were the seminal works of Italian Neorealism. Rosellini?s second, more notorious phase includes a trio of films (Voyage in Italy among them) starring Ingrid Bergman. Once regarded as footnotes to the director?s love affair with their star, they had a profound effect on the sensibility of the French New Wave auteurs. A third phase, devoted to an examination of history through television, is little known, but filled with visual and intellectual riches. A set of three of Rossellini’s History Films — The Age of the Medici, Blaise Pascal, and Cartesius — has just been released by Criterion and is well worth viewing. But The Taking of Power by Louis XIV , available separately, best illustrates Rossellini?s command of historical reconstruction. The film portrays the young Louis XIV?s cunning stratagem of confining the court intrigue that threatened him to the palatial playground of Versailles, where the rules of the game could be controlled by the Sun King. Although the bewigged, sumptuously arrayed nobility at times seems about to stumble into a Monty Python skit, the steady seriousness of Rossellini?s apprehension wins the viewer over with its careful attention to the details — and wonder — of the past.
About the Author
Now Editor-in-Chief of the Barnes & Noble Review, veteran bookseller James Mustich was a founder, and for twenty years publisher, of the book catalogue A Common Reader.