Il Generale Della Rovere
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 132 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 Italian
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: March 31, 2009
Review Date: March 18, 2009
Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini were the fathers of Italian neorealism, but by 1958, those days were something of a distant memory as they worked together on Il Generale Della Rovere. Filmed in the Cinecitta studios in Rome with De Sica starring and Rossellini directing, Il Generale Della Rovere is an uncommonly engrossing character study, a story of the redemption of a man whose empty life is given some meaning in the waning days of World War II.
Emanuele Bardone (Vittorio De Sica) is a shameless gambler and a con man. So great is his gambling addiction that he’s taken to conning fellow Italians whose loved ones have been arrested by the Nazis out of hundreds of thousands of lire on the pretext of intervening on their behalf with the Nazis to keep their loved ones from being sent to German concentration camps. Eventually he makes a misstep and is caught in one of his schemes (just when it looks as if for once he’s actually going to do some good), but Colonel Müeller (Hannes Messemer) has other plans for Bardone than a work camp or an execution. He bargains with him to masquerade as a captured leader of the Italian Resistance, General Della Rovere. Once in prison behind closed doors, he should be able to learn which of a half dozen arrested men is the other Resistance leader, a man known as Fabrizio (Giuseppe Rossetti). Bardone has never had a problem before pretending to be someone he wasn’t, but once in prison, seeing the hope and inspiration his false persona lends the insurgents, he begins to have a change of heart.
Rossellini’s film splits neatly into two halves: the opening hour shows us the gambling and petty schemes of Bardone who’ll try just about anything to get some money to play baccarat. The second hour takes us to prison as we see Bardone’s gradual transformation from heel to hero, all done in gradual stages making his emergence fully believable and genuinely moving. Rossellini, working on a very strict budget, cuts corners in all sorts of ways besides the studio shooting with one or two obvious painted backdrops. There is a generous use of old war footage rather than staging any fresh battle sequences for the camera. Since Genoa had been rebuilt after the war, there are some shots where live actors walk in front of painfully obvious rear screen projections of the bombed streets and rubble (the screen footage containing multiple scratches and of terribly lackluster quality). On the other hand, the prison set used for the film’s second half is a magnificently designed multi-level structure, and Rossellini gets some impressive shots of its imposing size in counterpart to the downtrodden men waiting there for deportation or execution.
Vittorio De Sica gives a tremendous performance as the conniving Bardone. His oily suavity in the film’s first half gives way to a more humbled and desperate persona with a heightened sense of purpose in the second. Hannes Messemer’s Colonel Müller is a more rounded and reasonable character than Nazis were often made to appear in films after the war. Sandra Milo and Anne Vernon as two of Bardone’s victims who are instrumental in his capture give wonderfully anguished portrayals. Guiseppe Rossetti gets only brief moments to make an impression as Fabrizio, but he makes the most of them. Giovanna Ralli as Bardone’s braying, spoiled mistress makes an early spectacle of herself.
The film is presented in 1.33:1 and is slightly windowboxed in Criterion’s usual style for Academy ratio films. The grayscale is beautifully presented here with excellent black levels and good shadow detail. Sharpness is marvelous as textures on the stone walls and the fabric on coats is easily discernable. Only a few random hairs and a white speck or two mar an otherwise sterling image (apart from the really scratched and damaged stock war footage used within the film). The white subtitles are easy to read, and the film has been divided into 25 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track does have sporadic problems with hiss and some muffled dialog. Since the movie was completely post-dubbed, there is that constant flat quality to the sound that is often the result of such a technique. Still, it’s to be expected of films from this era so it sounds very much like one expects it to.
There are four interviews included on the disc. Isabella Rossellini speaks about her father for 13 ¾ minutes in anamorphic widescreen. Son and assistant director Renzo Rossellini discusses his second unit direction of the movie for 9 ¾ minutes, filmed in 4:3. Daughter Ingrid Rossellini speaks for 5 ¾ minutes in anamorphic widescreen while film writer Adriano Aprà talks for 7 ¾ minutes in 4:3 about Rossellini’s seesaw career.
“The Choice” is an excellent video essay by critic Tag Gallagher (in lieu of an audio commentary) pointing out interesting aspects of the film and comparing it to the original story and the original book about Della Rovere. It lasts for 15 minutes.
A theatrical trailer for the film runs for 2 minutes in 4:3.
The enclosed 12-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, a few tinted stills from the movie, a brief analysis of the picture by film author James Monaco, and journalist Indro Montanelli’s interview concerning the difference between the novel and the film’s interpretations of the main character.
Winner of the Golden Lion at the 1959 Venice Film Festival, Il Generale Della Rovere is a signature work by director Roberto Rossellini being given an excellent debut on DVD by Criterion. Recommended!