This article originally appeared in
February 14, 2008
Dialogue: Francesco Rosi
By ERIC J. LYMAN
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, 85, returns from Berlin this year he will add another award to the
crowded shelves in his drawing room: an Honorary Golden Bear for lifetime
achievement. Rosi, who has not made a film in ten years, stays active
directing theatrical productions. But he took a break from his schedule to
discuss some of the highlights of a film career that spanned nearly 50 years.
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
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
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"
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
Francesco Rosi (Getty Images photo)
Rosi dressed as Jackie Coogan in 1926