The Fascist Trilogy: Realism in the Story Line

Throughout the entire Fascist period repressive controls severely limited Rossellini's creative expression. Censorship boards interfered with his work by rewriting parts of his scripts or increasing the amount of Fascist material. Since the main goal of state-sponsored film projects was to positively change public opinion in the government's direction, officials called for an increase in cinematic realism. This increased the authenticity and legitimacy of the subject matter, a direction in which Italian cinema was moving regardless of government recommendations. Since realistic aspects were the government's cinematic prescription as well as Rossellini's ultimate goal, it is necessary to pull apart and analyze which aspects were placed in the film by the government censorship boards and which aspects stemmed from Rossellini's own attempts of creative expression.

Fascist government leaders called for at least three realistic aspects in their films, including documentary footage, contemporary narrative events, and on-location shoots. These aspects created a certain sense of authenticity so that viewers would readily absorb the Fascist propaganda. Documentary footage of battle scenes fused together with fictional narrative events would remind the viewers of the black and white newsreels which were common in this period (Films 36). As a result of this association, viewers should have accepted the testimony presented in the commercial films as fact just as readily as they accepted the news segments as fact. With this association, Fascist propaganda could be easily inserted into public thought.

In addition to calling for documentary footage, Fascist censor boards also called for contemporary subject matter ranging from Italian imperialistic gains and the legitimacy of Mussolini's rule to the war which was being fought. This war rhetoric added authenticity to the film because it was a contemporary subject which affected the entire Italian population.

Lastly, on-location shooting (eg. on the actual battle and hospital ships in La nave bianca ) added to the feeling of authenticity and believability. Showing an important or famous Italian monument in the background of shots functioned to create a sense of pride in Italy and its rich history thereby bolstering one of the Fascist Party's main foundations-- nationalism. A pride in Italy would have reflected back on Italy's government, the Fascists and Mussolini himself.

Accepting these government recommendations, Rossellini clearly did not support them as much as he could have since a clear political stance was missing from each of his films from this era (Rondolino 43). Severely limited by government requirements in each of these three films, Rossellini retreated into the narrative events in order to add personal realistic expression.

Since Rossellini's primary responsibility was to follow the recommended guidelines set forth by the government, not much room was left in his films to develop a complex set of narrative events. Therefore, he chose a simple conventional story line, the intricate details of which would not distract from his attempt to show how people's lives were affected by the war.

In La nave bianca , the attempt at realism took the form of a treatise on sentiments (Michelone 69). Even though the war events were stressed, Rossellini attempted to portray the protagonists' feelings and emotions as the events of the war clashed with the events of their personal daily lives. This attempt was most evident when Basso is injured and leaves the battleship, thereby separated from the chorality of the fascist sailors. With this break, the viewer finally could look at the young sailor from a more human point of view. Rossellini concentrated on Basso's individual emotions rather than how he worked in unison with the other sailors. This chorality, men working together in unison without one standing out above the others, was summed up in a painted sentence on one of the ships' walls: 'Uomini and macchine un sol palpito' ('Men and machines a single heartbeat'). This reflected perfectly the Fascist message of people working together as a collective whole for the common good. Freed from this connotation on the hospital ship, Basso now finds himself more concerned with the young nurse who is caring for him. From this point, Rossellini continued the discourse on human sentiment by illustrating how the two struggle to untangle their unblemished relationship from the war events that have thrown them together.

Compared to his first film, Un pilota ritorna sent out an even stronger Fascist message. The propaganda took over more of the narrative events and less room was left for Rossellini to develop a sense of unadulterated realism. With the little freedom he had, Rossellini seemed to betray the war rhetoric in illustrating the negative aspects about how people's lives were torn apart by the war. In Un pilota ritorna the hard documentary aspects (air maneuvers, being taken prisoner, etc...) clashed with the soft, fragile love story that was blossoming between Anna and Lt. Rosetti (Michelone 71). This concept culminated in the shelter when Lt. Rosetti declares his love for Anna while the bombs exploded outside. The two events, a declaration of love and exploding bombs, clearly do not belong together. This marked contrast was one of the most obvious ways that Rossellini sneaked around the war rhetoric to include a discourse on how the war was effecting common people. His ultimate message was that war is cruel because it threatened to break up a delicate relationship that had nothing to do with the fighting outside. He further developed this concept of reality by having a weak plot, as he did in La nave bianca , to concentrate on the most important facts. Through the eyes of the hero, Rossellini showed how civilian life was affected by war. The effects of the bombings and enemy invasions showed how the lives of the humble townsfolk are torn to shreds. In showing this, Rossellini was showing a human side. Though they may have been the enemy country, they were still people who were suffering. He backed this up by portraying the enemy, the British, as normal people, not as demons or monsters (Storia Vol 2 154).

Finally, in Uomo dalla croce , Rossellini tried to portray realism through other channels as the main part of the narrative events centered on the Fascist ideals of self-sacrifice and flawless heroism that the army chaplain embodied. Rossellini concentrated in developing realism based on a Christian theme by plotting religion and humanism against ideology to make a moral statement: no matter what ideology a person subscribes to, religion will always be there to comfort (Films 40). The army chaplain displays this moral message in various ways. Inside the hut where there are representatives of religion, atheism, Fascism and Communism, the chaplain cares and comforts all. He does not discriminate based on ideology. He makes no moral judgement on Fascism or Marxism since these political definitions lie outside of the realm of religion and, therefore, is not an important difference (Films 40).

Rossellini was restricted to the war rhetoric in all the films of his Fascist Trilogy. He still managed to find room to create a cinematic realism above and beyond that of the Fascist recommendations. Regardless of whether or not he concentrated on how the war affected young lives, the civilian population or what religion should mean in war, he used the same vehicle, the story line, to portray his personal realism.

The Neorealist Trilogy