Francesco Rosi overview


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BERLIN -- Italian director Francesco Rosi spent every spare moment as a kid going to the movies. He loved American film noir, murder mysteries and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. "That's all I wanted to do," he said.

Rosi went on to become one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, revered by other directors and winning awards for his 16 films including "Salvatore Giuliano" (1962), which won the Silver Bear for best director at the Berlin International Film Festival.

That picture will be screened in the Homage of the 58th Berlin International Film Festival on Thursday when Rosi, now 85, will receive an Honorary Golden Bear award for lifetime achievement.

"With their explosive power, Rosi's films are still persuasive today. His works are classics of politically engaged cinema," says Berlinale Director Dieter Kosslick.

The Homage will feature 13 films from the Rosi canon that began in 1958 with "La sfida" (The Challenge) and "I Magliari" (The Magliari) in 1959. Both films displayed his keen social conscience and marked his place as a master of neorealism, something he had perfected working with directors Luchino Visconti and Robert Rossellini.

A stark and riveting documentary-style account of the death of a Mafia bandit, "Salvatore Giuliano" in 1961 established him as filmmaker of the highest class. Other classics followed including "Le mani sulla citta" (Hands Over the City), "Il momento delia verita" (The Moment of Truth), "Il caso Mattei" (The Mattei Affair), which won the Palme d'Or at the Festival de Cannes, "Le mani sulla cita" (Hands Over the City), which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, "Lucky Luciano" and "Cristo si e fermato a Eboli" (Christ Stopped at Eboli).

Rainer Rother, artistic director of Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin, which selected the films for the Rosi retrospective, says the director represents the best of the era that followed Antonioni, Fellini and Visconti.

"He's one of the greatest of his generation. He's close to Costa-Gavras," Rother says. "He was influenced by neorealism but he began to direct films when neorealism was in decline. He stayed close to the basic assumptions of it, but he was also widening his perspective in the direction of political cinema."

Rosi films were based on close observation of everyday life and explored intriguing stories about political corruption and a society corrupted by organized crime. He is seen as one of the most American of the Italian directors in his pacing and the way he tells a story.

He has always paid tribute to the filmmakers who allowed him to learn his trade. "The discipline, vigor and respect for the work, I acquired from Visconti," he said. He wished to carry on the tradition of neorealism, but he felt that it didn't go far enough.

Rosi wanted to be a reporter as well as a filmmaker. He believed that films should bear witness to the events they dealt with and strove to make sure that his films displayed a strict adherence to fact.

"I consider myself a witness to my time in Italy," he said. "My work concerned 'the truth' the government told the public and I asked questions of me and of the spectator. The audience has to be active."

Often using nonprofessional actors, most strikingly in "Salvatore Giuliano," Rosi is regarded by critics and peers as having changed the face of political cinema.

Martin Scorsese, writing for a Criterion DVD edition of "Salvatore Giuliano," called Rosi one of the great masters of contemporary film and said he could talk for hours about that film alone. "He succeeded in evoking an entire culture with great artistic sensitivity coupled with his watchful ethnographer's eye," Scorsese said. "His films are neither melodramas nor thrillers: They are part of a genre to themselves, based on political realities."

Rosi will be at the Berlin festival for about five days and will attend the awards ceremony. He also will give a talk at the Museum of Film and be given a guided tour of the festival.

Artistic director Rother says that "In Cristo si e fermato a Eboli" (Christ Stopped at Eboli) is his personal favorite of Rosi's films.

"For me," Rother says, "what strikes me most about him as a filmmaker is that he started out with politics and then, when he came to more personal films, they were touching and thrilling."