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Celebrated Italian director Francesco Rosi died in Rome on Saturday at age 92. The filmmaker died in his sleep after suffering from a severe case of bronchitis.
The Naples-born director was a key figure of 1960s and ’70s post-neorealist cinema alongside Pier Paolo Pasolini, Gillo Pontecorvo, Ettore Scola and the Taviani brothers. As an outspoken voice against Italy’s postwar corruption, Rosi’s early films tackled many controversial topics.
His film Salvatore Giuliano, about the mysterious death of a real-life Robin Hood-type Sicilian bandit, cemented Rosi’s place in cinema history. The film launched Rosi’s unique style of cinematic investigations, which he characterized not as documentaries, but as documented films. He took home the Silver Bear for best director in 1962 in Berlin for the film.
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His 1963 film, Hands Over the City, which won him the Golden Lion in Venice, tackled the rampant building that had devastated Italy’s urban areas. In 1967, he shot More Than a Miracle, a film that Carlo Ponti produced to showcase his wife, Sophia Loren, to American audiences.
In the 1970s, as Italy underwent extreme social-political turmoil, dubbed the “Years of Lead,” Rosi returned to his investigative style of filmmaking, resulting in some of his best works.
His 1972 film, The Mattei Affair, explored the unresolved plane crash and death of controversial oil tycoon Enrico Mattei. The film, which employs a non-linear investigative technique, won Rosi the Palme d’Or that year in Cannes.
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1973’s Lucky Luciano revealed the political and social networks surrounding the film’s namesake, the infamous gangster. 1976’s Illustrious Corpses is a political thriller revealing corruption in the judicial system that took home best film and best director at the David di Donatello Awards that year. His films consistently required audiences to be active and challenge conventions.
Rosi picked up a BAFTA award for best foreign-language film in 1979 for Christ Stopped at Eboli, a film about the exile of anti-fascist intellectual Carlo Levi. His 1981 film, Three Brothers, earned him an Academy Award nomination for best foreign-language film. In 1984, he directed Placido Domingo in an adaptation of the opera Carmen, which was nominated for a Golden Globe for best foreign-language film.
He continued to direct until 1997, with his last film, The Truce, starring John Turturro as Primo Levi. The Berlin International Film Festival honored Rosi in 2008 with a career tribute and a Golden Bear for lifetime achievement. In 2012, he received a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at Venice Film Festival.
Rosi has influenced a wide realm of directors including Costa-Gavras, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Ken Loach. He will be honored Monday at a public service at the Casa del Cinema in Rome.
He is survived by his daughter, actress Carolina Rosi.
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