Dialogue: Francesco Rosi


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When Francesco Rosi was 4, his father took him to see Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid." Afterward, the father dressed the boy as Jackie Coogan and snapped his photo. The elder Rosi entered the sepia image in a local look-alike contest, it won, and the young Rosi said he knew from that point that he belonged in show business. More than eight decades later, Rosi sat back in the same drawing room he used to produce most of his most memorable work, in a two-floor penthouse apartment near the top of Rome's Spanish Steps. It is filled with awards, including a Silver Bear from Berlin, where his "Salvatore Giuliano" took home second place in 1962 after the festival declined to screen it because, he told The Hollywood Reporter's Eric J. Lyman, they thought it had the feel of a documentary. When Rosi returns from Berlin this year, he will add another award: an Honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement.

The Hollywood Reporter: Over the course of your career you worked with many of the names that made the Italian film industry famous, including Luchino Visconti, Mario Monicelli, Luciano Emmer and Michelangelo Antonioni. Which of them made the biggest impression on you?
Francesco Rosi: Oh, it would have to be Visconti. Visconti was my mentor: I first worked with him in 1949, and I learned everything from him. I became the director I became because of Visconti. The kind of neo-realism that he helped popularize along with Roberto Rossellini had a big impact on me.

THR: It seems that American films, specifically the gangster films of the 1940s and '50s, also had an impact on you. I'm thinking especially of "La Sfida" (The Challenge), which is set in your hometown of Naples and seems to include elements of both Hollywood crime films of that era and Italian neo-realism.
Rosi: Bravo. Yes, that's absolutely true. I enjoyed those old American films. I think my generation of directors was the first in Italy to absorb the influence of American films, which didn't screen in Italy during the years of fascism or during the war. By the time the films made it to Italy, older directors like Visconti already had a mature style. But I was younger and more impressionable.

THR: How do you see the Italian film industry today?
Rosi: I think we're starting to see an improvement over the last several years. The Italian film industry really went through a dead period in the 1980s and 1990s, but now we're starting to see more quality films produced. There also are more formulaic productions, and that always makes it tougher for serious films to find distribution channels. But they're being made again, and they're finding an audience.

THR: What would you say to young directors today who complain that it's tough to make high-quality films in Italy because of the shadow cast by you and your contemporaries?
Rosi: No, no, I don't believe that. We did break new ground. But each generation has its story to tell. The reality communicated in a film I made 40 years ago is much different than the reality we see around us today. Young directors shouldn't be trying to re-tell the same stories. They should be telling new stories in new ways. Besides, the great work from previous generations should be an inspiration, not something that limits. People didn't stop writing after Shakespeare, did they?

THR: How often are you able to get out and watch films?
Rosi: I go to the cinema quite often; there are some nice cinemas in this area. But it comes and goes. Sometimes I don't watch a film for a couple of weeks, and sometimes I'll watch three in one weekend. I'm still fascinated by the cinema. DVDs are convenient, but there's still nothing like watching a great story made by great actors and a great director on the big screen.

THR: I know you made many of your films on a tight budget. What do you think when you see some of today's budgets for films?
Rosi: Sometimes a small budget can be a blessing because it'll make you consider certain alternatives you wouldn't have considered if you had more money to spend. And sometimes those alternatives will be even more interesting than what you originally had in mind. But that's not always the case. Very often a small budget means you have to cut corners to save money, and the end result is a film that looks like somebody cutting corners made it. It's a shame when that reduces a film that could have been a classic.

Nationality: Italian
Date of birth: Nov. 15, 1922
Selected filmography: "La Sfida" (1958), "Salvatore Giuliano" (1962), "Le Mani sulla Citta" (1963), "Il Caso Mattei" (1972), "Lucky Luciano" (1973), "Cadaveri Eccellenti" (1976), "Cristo si e Fermato a Eboli" (1979), "Carmen" (1984)
Notable awards: Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear, "Salvatore Giuliano" (1962); Venice Film Festival Golden Lion, "Le Mani sulla Citta" (1963); Festival de Cannes Palme d'Or, "Il Caso Mattei" (1972); BAFTA Award, "Cristo si e Fermato a Eboli" (1983); multiple David di Donatello Awards