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The Religious Affiliation of Director
Roberto Rossellini


From: John Baxter, Fellini: The Biography, St. Martin's Press: New York (1993), page 69:
By the time Fellini met Roberto Rossellini, the charismatic Roman was approaching forty and already outgrown two or three personalities... Though Rossellini directed for Vittorio Mussolini he no more believed in Fascism than in the Communism and Catholicism he embraced later. He'd exploited it to build a career. He just as skilfully extricated himself as the war ended. By 1944, politically born again courtesy of Cesare Zavattini, the ideologue of film naturalism, he was a 'Neorealist,' committed to a vernacular cinema dealing with the living world.
Baxter, pages 81-83:
At Venice, the first mutterings of scandal were heard when Catholic critics suggested Il miracolo [The Miracle, written by Fellini and released as a segment of a larger work: L' Amore (1948)] might be blasphemous. It's never been clear if Rossellini [the director] meant the film to be anti-religious. In the outline, Fellini and Pinelli say unequivocally that a miracle has taken place, but in the film it's just as likely that the bells are imagined -- the interpretation Pinelli himself prefers today.

Rossellini almost certainly, in this Communist/atheist phase of his career, saw the story as ambiguous and ironic. All 'miracles', he immplies, exist, just like Ninna's, only in deluded, childlike minds. In 1956, for the film's re-release in paris, he cut its final shot so that the episode ends as Ninna grasps the bell rope. No responding chimes are heard and the film climaxes on a humanist note. Ninna has triumphed over the narrow-mindedness of her village and the Church, even delivering her baby on its premises, led there by that most pagan of animals, the goat...

The charge of blasphemy didn't take root in Europe, because Pius XII, unexpectedly, was reported in October as having found 'marvellous' this 'modern version of a miracle of the Virgin directed by a Communist'. Since it's hardly likely the Pope saw the film, the announcement probably came from the Church's censors, heartened to see even so vaguely spiritual a subject embraced by the godless Rossellini.

In the United States, however, Amore became enmeshed in one of the great scandals of post-war cinema. Rossellini sold the film to Burstyn and Mayer, who'd handled Open City and Paisa. They discovered almost immediately that La Voix humaine couldn't be shown. This may have been because Rossellini, not for the first time, had sold the rights to more than one company -- both Burstyn/Mayer and Ilya Lopert claimed US rights to Paisa -- but it's more probable that he'd failed to clear copyright on Cocteau's play, since Il miracolo was also shown without La Voix humaine in Britain. Resourcefully Burstyn and Mayer joined it with two more short films, Renoir's Un partie de campagne and Marcel Pagnol's Joffroi, and released the result as Ways of Love... The New York State Board of Regents passed the film and it opened to modest critical approval at the Paris Theater on 12 December 1950, but the next day Edward T. McCaffrey, Commissioner for Licenses (and a prominent Catholic) illegally over-rode the Boards's decision and banned it, claiming to find the film 'personally and officially blasphemous'. To emphasize that the Paris risked losing its license if it continued to show Ways of Love, fire inspectors pointedly visited the newly built cinema searching for infringements.

Burstyn had McCaffrey's decision reversed in court, but by now the hand of New York's Cardinal Francis Spellman was evident. Though Church influence in Hollywood was nearly absolute in 1950, the Church exercised little control over imported films. Spellman chose Il miracolo as a vehicle to correct that. At his urging the Catholic League of Decency condemned it. McCaffrey mobilised old friends in the Catholic War Veterans, of whose New York branch he'd been commander, and a thousand pickets descended on the Paris, where they denounced the film as 'Communist blasphemy'. Panicked, the Board of Regents reversed its decision and on 16 February 1951 revoked the license of Ways of Love. Burstyn took the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled in May 1952 that 'sacrilegious' was a term unacceptable in law, and that Il miracolo was protected by First Amendment guarantees of free speech. A serious dent was put in film censorship, and especially that part of it exercised without legal mandate by the Catholic Church.

From: Stephen M. Silverman, Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and His Movies, Alfred A. Knopf: New York (1996), page 268:
If Notorious served as a high point in her career, [Ingrid] Bergman's extramarital relationship with Italian director Roberto Rossellini in 1949 marked the low ebb. Bergman became persona non grata in Hollywood--in all of America--when she abandoned her husband since 1937, the dentist Dr. Peter Lindstrom, and their daughter, Pia, for Rossellini, whose child she was carrying. Bergman was labeled "a free-love cultist" on the floor of the United States Senate, and the equally hypocritical Hollywood power brokers refused her services until 1956, when she starred in and won a Best Actress Oscar for Anastasia, which had been filmed in England.
From: Les Keyser, Martin Scorsese, Twayne Publishers: New York (1992), page 170:
Before undertaking his Jesus project [The Last Temptation of Christ], Scorsese reviewed the image of the Savior on film and was most impressed by Roberto Rosselini's epics, The Acts of the Apostles (1968) and The Messiah (1975), which Scorsese subseuently attempted to distribute in the United States. From Rosselini, Scorsese confessed, he discovered the importance of the primitive setting to Christ's mission: "Rossellini's historical films opened up my mind to the point that, of course, if Jesus is in Nazareth, it's going to look very poor. Therefore, you don't need big art direction. When you film in places like North Africa, people are still living in the same conditions they have been for thousands of years."

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