Tuesday, November 16, 2021

DOC NYC ’21: The Rossellinis

The Rossellinis are like the Kennedys of European art cinema and fashion. They all inherit high expectations and a legacy of scandal. For Alessandro, the bi-racial son of Renzo and grandson of the illustrious Roberto, the pressure drove him to drugs and general neurosis. However, he more or less came to terms with his famous family by helming his first film, the documentary The Rossellinis, which screens as part of the 2021 DOC NYC.

About the first fifteen minutes or so is devoted to explaining how everyone is related to each other—and viewers will appreciate the crib notes. As every true cineaste knows, the romance between Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini scandalized Hollywood. However, Rossellini basically did it all over again in India, when he married screenwriter Sonali Das Gupta. Alessandro’s father was supposed to be the family’s next great filmmaker, but he was never allowed to escape his father’s shadow. The only film Renzo helmed in his own right has rarely been screened, but that is how he met Alessandro’s mother, a dancer from America.

Clearly, Alessandro Rossellini always felt insecure because he lacked the supermodel looks of his aunt Isabella and his uncle Robin (who was once romantically linked to women like Princess Caroline of Monaco, but now lives in isolation on his mother’s Swedish island summer home). In fact, his relationship with his celebrated actress-model aunt is rather strained, for many reasons, several of which are really his own fault. Indeed, his sit-down sequences with her are excruciatingly uncomfortable.

It is rather debatable whether anyone would be interested in this film if the surname of the subjects were Maxwell or Murdoch, instead of Rossellini. However, it is indeed about the Rossellinis and aside from the Alessandro, they are pretty darn glamorous. It does not have the grabby drama of Francesco Patierno’s
The War of the Volcanoes, but there is plenty of family laundry that gets aired out.

Ingrid Bergman fans should be happy she emerges from the film relatively unscathed. Grandpere Roberto, on the other hand, comes across as a manipulative, self-centered tyrant, but he is still the man who directed
Rome, Open City. Patierno’s film is much more entertaining, but Alessandro Rossellini offers up plenty of voyeuristic angst. If you are obsessed with his famous family, the way some people are preoccupied with the Kennedys, then this film will definitely feed your guilty pleasure. Recommended for fans of celebrity sensationalism dressed up for the art-house, The Rossellinis screens again today (11/16) in-person and online through 11/28.