Pete’s Peek | Remembering Roberto Rossellini’s haunting wartime drama Il Generale Della Rovere

When it comes to the really great Italian film directors, many were profoundly touched by neorealism – the cinematic style that dominated Italian filmmaking immediately after the Second World War. Breaking out of the confines of the Cinecittà studios (built by Mussolini in 1937 to create propaganda films) directors such Rossellini, Fellini and De Sica, followed closely by Pasolini and Antonioni, took to the streets between the years 1943 and 1952 to capture everyday life, creating cinematic masterpieces that, over a half a century later, still pack a punch.

Leading the charge was Roberto Rossellini, whose groundbreaking Rome, Open City, starring Anna Magnani, elevated neorealism – and the director – onto the international stage in 1944; while his vitriolic Umberto D in 1952 would signal the movement’s end. Rossellini returned to the themes he explored during his neorealist period when he made Il Generale Della Rovere in 1959, which gets its first UK DVD release on 4 July through Arrow Academy.

Winner of the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion award, Il Generale Della Rovere was a huge box office success on its initial release. Vittorio De Sica is the film’s star and he commands nearly scene as a charming former General who ‘helps’ the citizens of Nazi-occupied Genoa get their loved-ones released from custody. But De Sica’s character is in reality a gambler and a con man called Bardone, who is later arrested by the SS then given the chance to save himself from execution by impersonating a partisan leader in order to expose a major resistance organiser.

Sound grim? Well it ain’t. In fact, this is one of the most engaging, gripping and heartfelt wartime dramas ever made. It is also a powerful story about courage as Bardone wrestles with his conscience while locked up in prison. For Bardone, it’s a one-way ticket to redemption.

The Arrow Academy release includes a new transfer of the Venice Film Festival version of the film; optional English subtitle translation; original mono audio; and interviews with composer Renzo Rossellini and director Roberto Rossellini.

Click here for the more Italian neorealism DVD releases.

For taster, check out this scene and see if you can spot director Roberto Rossellini in a sneeze-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo.