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The Criterion Collection presents
Il Generale Della Rovere (1959)

"We Italians must help each other, despite the hatred."
- Bardone (Vittorio de Sica)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: March 30, 2009

Stars: Vittorio de Sica
Director: Roberto Rossellini

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:12m:27s
Release Date: March 31, 2009
UPC: 715515042611
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

There was always a strong streak of sentimentality in Neorealism—getting out of the studio and into the streets was extraordinarily liberating, but even in the breakthrough pictures in the movement, at the end of and just after World War II (like Bicycle Thieves, directed by this film's leading man), there was always an element bordering on the maudlin. The earliest Neorealist pictures portrayed their world starkly, and were unapologetic and unflinching in looking at the ravages of Italy after the war—but the passage of time made that vision a little less fresh with the years. Il Generale Della Rovere, with one of the great Neorealist masters behind the camera and another in front of it, isn't exactly nostalgic for the war, but there's no mistaking a pining for lost glory. (This may be the inevitable response when artists realize that they are no longer the up and comers, but have now become the establishment.) But even considering that the historical moment of the movement may have passed, this film still demonstrates that the Neorealists were honed masters of their craft.

The films of Roberto Rossellini are coming out in dribs and drabs on DVD, and we've still yet to see the best of them—one can only hope that a release like this is a warmup for greater things to come, especially Rome Open City. But still, this is an awfully bracing picture. Rossellini's leading man is Vittorio de Sica, another of the great lions of postwar Italian filmmaking—De Sica plays Emmanuele Bardone, a hustler on the streets of Genoa, taking advantage of those at their most vulnerable. It's the end of the war, and the German/Italian alliance has gone south; now, rather than being an ally, the forces of the Third Reich are an occupying army. De Sica is a dashing figure and a charismatic presence, and his character can fake empathy with the best of them—but you soon realize that Bardone really is loathsome, a petty, greedy little man exploiting others at their most vulnerable, with an exaggerated sense of his own importance. He claims to Italian families that he can grease the wheels with the right amount of lira to get their family members out of German prisons—he ends up gambling the money instead, and seeking out his next mark in his wartime Ponzi scheme.

But as we've learned most recently from Bernard Madoff, those sorts of pyramids get upended eventually, and the Germans get wise to Bardone, who is forced to make a devil's bargain: he's going to go into a German P.O.W. camp masquerading as Generale Della Rovere, a revered Italian military leader who has been mistakenly killed by the Germans in a roadside shooting that's been kept hush hush, to see if he can infiltrate the Italian resistance and help the Germans plug up the leaks. The Reich gets more than it bargained for, though, as their scheme raises the political consciousness and rouses the patriotism of the con man—as Della Rovere, he's everything he wasn't as Bardone: brave, forthright, fearless, a leader of men. The film is kind of a remarkable character study, about what the exigencies of war will do to even the worst of us, and how extraordinary times can force a man to rise to the occasion, even if he and we were certain from the jump that he was in over his head.

Rossellini gets such a wonderful performance from De Sica that you can't help but wonder what their conversations were like between takes—like Billy Wilder working with Erich von Stroheim in Sunset Boulevard or Otto Preminger in Stalag 17, Rossellini is a masterful director of directors. It's also a little strange to see Rossellini, the great filmmaker of the streets of Italy of the 1940s, using stock footage to provide some wartime ambiance—it points out just how carefully composed and pristine his refined technique became with the years, and he's forced to use some matte shots that, on this DVD transfer particularly, look almost laughable.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: As discussed above, the print is absolutely shimmering in this transfer; the faults with it seem to be with the film itself and not the DVD. Besides the weird-looking matte shots, there are a couple of scene early on that feature awful blotches on screen, but these are clearly bits of dirt in Rossellini's camera, and the director seems to have been satisfied to take the imperfections because of the quality of the respective takes.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono track has a bit of crackle now and again, but it's certainly adequate, especially if you don't speak Italian.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. accompanying booklet
  2. color bars
Extras Review: The extras package is a family affair, featuring interviews with three of the director's children. Isabella (13m:41s), 7 at the time of the production of this film, shares her childhood memories of the project; older brother Renzo (9m:46s) served as his father's assistant director, and so was more attuned to the director's career and this picture's place in it; and Ingrid (5m:49s) reflects on the relationship between mother and father. A Rossellini scholar offers a more academic look at the movie (7m:45s), and in what's called a visual essay (15m:13s), Tag Gallagher provides historical background on the story, and about the challenges faced by Rossellini in stirring up wartime memories that many of his Italian contemporaries would have been happy to forget. The disc also includes an original trailer, and the accompanying booklet, essays by James Monaco (on Rossellini's body of work in general) and Indro Montanelli (on this film in particular).

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

We're still holding tight for Roberto Rossellini's very best movie finally to appear on DVD, but in the meantime, this is a heartfelt character piece that's evocative of time and place, and features a wonderfully nuanced central performance from one of Rossellini's crucial comrades, Vittorio de Sica. It's probably relatively minor in Rossellini's body of work, but it is a great pleasure to watch.


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