Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Robertino, Isabella And Ingrid Rossellini

Robertino, Isabella And Ingrid Rossellini, In "My Dad Is 100 Years Old," a short film that Isabella Rossellini wrote about her father, Roberto Rossellini, for his centennial, she describes how upset she was as a child when critics attacked his work. "I always felt like protecting my dad," she says to the camera.

It's an instinct she shares with her siblings. The film, which will be screened next week at the Tribeca Film Festival along with Roberto Rossellini's "Flowers of St. Francis," has aroused the equally strong filial protectiveness of Ms. Rossellini's fraternal twin, Ingrid, who asserts that it desecrates their father's artistic legacy. And the conflict shows the sisters' differing memories - or fantasies - of their famous father. Rosselli ni was a founder of the neorealist movement. His films include "Rome: Open City," about the final days of the Nazi occupation, which he shot very soon after the events, in the real locations and with a mostly nonprofessional cast.

Isabella Rossellini collaborated on her 17-minute film about her father with the Canadian director Guy Maddin, who had previously directed her in his movie "The Saddest Music in the World." Like Mr. Maddin's other works, "My Dad Is 100 Years Old" is avantgarde and quirky. Rossellini is represented throughout by a naked, rotund stomach. The stomach ripples when he talks, as though his voice were emerging from the navel. The ventriloquist is Ms. Rossellini, who also plays all the other roles in the film, including Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, David O. Selznick, and her mother, Ingrid Bergman.The character of Bergman materializes to discuss, among other things, the international furor that erupted when she and Rossellini had an affair in 1949 and then a child out of wedlock - the twins' older brother, Roberto. The scandal damaged both of their careers. Bergman was denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate as an "apostle of degradation," and she was not cast in a Hollywood film for seven years.

"My Dad Is 100 Years Old" includes madeup dialogue between Rossellini and the other characters about his cinematic philosophy - his ideas, for instance, that film should not be distraction and that reality is more powerful than what comes from the artist's imagination. But the film strikes a viewer less as a statement about Rossellini's art than as a daughter's very personal, dreamlike monologue about her father.

Mr. Rossellini is represented by a stomach because, when she was little, Ms. Rossellini imagined he was pregnant because he was so fat. "You always said you regretted not being about to nurse us, your seven children," she says at the beginning of the film, as the camera shows an image of hundreds of glistening fish or amphibian eggs. "Our favorite game was throwing ourselves on your belly like piglets, and you pretending to be the sow," Ms. Rossellini continues. "I would embrace your enormous belly, soft, round, warm, cuddly."

She talks about her father's genius and her sadness that his films are now being forgotten. Her dialogue reveals her preoccupations and questions about her father. Rossellini, though a sexual adventurer, nonetheless denounced other directors' use of sex in their films. In a book that Ms. Rossellini is promoting along with the film, called "In the Name of the Father, the Daughter, and the Holy Spirits," she discusses the fact that she named her daughter Elettra (the Italian version of Electra) and admits: "I had the Elettra complex, I may still have it. I loved my dad exaggeratedly."

To Ingrid Rossellini, Isabella is free to "interpret her dreams," but not in the form of a centennial tribute to their father. An adjunct professor of Italian literature at NYU, Ingrid Rossellini says she didn't know anything about the film until her sister showed it to her the day before its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. She was shocked and horrified and thought the film's playful, irreverent images made a joke of their father's work and betrayed his principles.

"I mean, you start laughing: It's a ridiculous thing, this naked belly," she said. "I think Father would be very upset to be represented like that. When he came to his work,he had such profound moral values...

[A]nd the camera in his movies was so discreet. It's there just to listen and to portray, just to be there at the service of others. Father, as a director, almost erases himself. Instead, here, it's all about Isabella."

The film includes a clip from "Rome: Open City," in which a woman, played by the Italian actress Anna Magnani, is shot by a German soldier. According to Ingrid Rossellini, the image is so iconic in Italy that it has appeared on a postage stamp. In "My Dad Is 100 Years Old," the scene is at first projected on the naked stomach. To Ms. Rossellini, this is sacrilege. "That moment is so symbolically charged in Italy," she said. "It means suffering, war, horror, that [whole] historical moment ... It's like you're playing with the image of the twin towers. In Europe, that specific image means so much."

What Ms. Rossellini objects to, she emphasizes, is not her sister's showing the film at all, but including it as part of the current tributes to Rossellini, and as an introduction to his films. She says she asked her not to, but her sister ignored her. (Isabella Rossellini's representative said she was not available to comment for this article.) "If she had shown it by itself, that would be fine; she can say whatever she wants," Ingrid Rossellini said. "What I resent and oppose is the fact that she is presenting it in the events in honor of Father, and it is followed by his work." She is angry that her sister did not ask for her and her siblings' approval. (Their father had six children; Isabella, Ingrid, and Roberto also have a half-sister on their mother's side.) "Excuse me. She is not the daughter," she said, referring to her sister's book title. "We have many brothers and sisters, and she has to respect the fact that she is hurting my feelings. I'm her twin sister. Don't I exist?"

She is angry and incredulous that film festivals, including Toronto and Tribeca, have agreed to show it. "I'm surprised that serious people who review these things accepted something like that ... I wish I could talk to them and say, 'Did you see that, did you personally approve it?' I would like to hear an explanation."

According to her, "My Dad Is 100 Years Old" is not an accurate picture of the siblings' childhood, or of their relationship to their father. "I never, nor she, had any very close contact with Father," she said. "Father and Mother divorced when we were 4 years old. Father went to live with a new wife with other children; Mama went to live in Paris." She and Isabella and Roberto, she said, lived in an apartment in Rome with a nanny."We saw Mama once in a while when she came to visit us, and Father we saw for lunch on Sunday."

Like any children who saw their father rarely, she explains, they didn't know how to act. "We were all so intimidated that we were very quiet. We adored him, yes, that's true, because he was a myth." But she never spent time "lying on his stomach ... I mean, I wish, but no."

She interprets Isabella's film as a projection of her desire for what she didn't have. "We wanted him to love us and we wanted to impress him, but I remember being so paralyzed, because I didn't know what I could say that would be intelligent so he would like me," she said. "The love, yes, love and admiration - we all had that. When Father died"- of a heart attack, on June 3, 1977 - "I thought, how can the world go on? I had the feeling he carried [it] on his shoulders," she said. (Isabella Rossellini described the disruption of their childhood and their upbringing by a housekeeper in her 1997 memoir, "Some of Me." But her memoir also included the story about Rossellini pretending to be a sow.)

Ingrid doesn't resent her parents for how little time they spent with their children. "It was not an easy childhood," she said, "but I think we understood: Both Mama and Father had a very special life." She would have felt much guiltier if her mother had stopped acting in order to be with them. "I know that she did her best with us," she said, "and also, she pursued her interests, her career, and she was happy. We did not ruin her life."

She also has warm feelings toward her twin sister and admires her intelligence and sense of humor. But she thinks she has made "a big mistake," and she feels it is her duty to object. "I'm really sad to say [this], and to say it in papers, because I'm a really private person," she said. "But I'm not doing it for my own sake. My own feelings, that I'm hurt, have no value whatsoever. The focus is those movies. To me, you can't touch those movies: 'Rome: Open City,' 'Paisan,' 'St. Francis' ... They really marked an important moment in history."
Title: Robertino, Isabella And Ingrid Rossellini
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