Wednesday, 4 February 2015


My obituary of the great Italian director Francesco Rosi, appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 30 January. Because of the pressures of moving house, I missed it that day, but it is available online, and you can link to it here.

I remember seeing The Mattei Affair at the NFT, and being immediately enthralled. The sense of paranoia and conspiracy appealed to my own sense of politics, and the way the film moved through an ambigous area between documentary and drama was thrilling. Chasing down his films was difficult in those days, but I tried, while relishing the contrast with my other favourite Italian director, Sergio Leone. I made a comparison of the two, which isn't in the piece as printed, about their both making films with Rod Steiger. I'm sure it was Steiger's characteristically over the top performance as Al Capone in Richard Wilson's 1959 film that drew both directors to him.

After Hands Over The City, Rosi had made three features in seven years. None achieved wider wider success, though having just in 2018 finally watched the third of those, Many Wars Ago, he certainly deserved it. After that excellent World war I drama, which was seen as somewhat derivative of Paths Of Glory, Rosi returned to his metier, corruption, conspiracy, and greed, and his next three films, Mattei, Lucky Luciano, and Illustrious Corpses, may be his gritty best. I loved the contrast of Lino Ventura in Illustrious Corpses with Gian Maria Volonte, and Volonte would later draw on the sense of exhuastion and frustration Ventura projected. The film was based on the novel Equal Danger, by
the Sicilian Leonardo Sciacsia, whose affinities to Rosi are obvious. There was a separate essay to be written there, but I could indulge my favourite discoveries of the late Seventies, after I arrived in London, so far.

The films Rosi made after Christ Stopped At Eboli tend to be underrated, or dismissed as playing to the art house market internationally. But they all have remarkable virtues, and I specially had singled out Philippe Noiret in Three Brothers in my original copy. Adapting Gabriel Garcia Marquez has been problematic for directors, but Chronicle Of A Death Foretold may be the best, even if I'm not as convinced by Rupert Everett as the Telegraph was. In The Palermo Affair, whose script was part written by Gore Vidal but is not very tight, the acting can't carry the film. But The Truce is a loving adaptation of Primo Levi, with John Turturro bringing, oddly enough, a little Rod Steiger to the role.

Tony Servillo in Il Diva could be channeling Gian Maria Volonte, and I also mentioned Marco Bellochio's Good Morning Night as another recent Italian film influenced by Rosi. But go back to the Mattei Affair. It's available, in not great quality, on You Tube, but its themes resonate with today's world..

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