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General Della Rovere (Italian Limited Release)
Con-artist Victorio Emanuele Bardone (Vittorio De Sica) lives a life on the edge- he gambles, he loses, he gambles more, then he loses even more. Without money and virtually no one else left to borrow from Victorio sets up a profitable business-he offers to help those whose sons, brothers, and husbands have been captured by the Nazis. Of course, in exchange for the right amount of money!
As his business gradually expands Victorio befriends an enigmatic Nazi, Col. Mueller (Hannes Messemer), who is impressed by the Italian's demeanor. The two enjoy each other's company and spend plenty of time together until one day Victorio's business is unceremoniously exposed. Col. Mueller offers Victorio two options: to face the consequences of his actions and appear in front of a military court (a guaranteed death sentence) or secretly work for the Nazis assuming the identity of legendary General Della Rovere in a local prison flooded with Italian patriots.
Roberto Rossellini's Il Generale Della Rovere (1959) is arguably the Italian maestro's most well known in the US feature after his classic Roma, Citta Aperta a.k.a Rome, Open City (1945). Acknowledged with an endless list of awards (Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival in 1959; Best Production Award at the David di Donatello Awards in 1960; and Silver Ribbon Award for Best Director granted by the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists among many others) the film was often seen as a metaphor reaching deep into the heart of post-war Italy- a country where morality and politics were always great topics for passionate discussions.
The story of Il Generale Della Rovere is universal-a con artist undergoes a moral transformation which early in the film seems unfeasible. Played brilliantly by Vittorio de Sica the criminal Victorio becomes a national hero without even realizing his newly acquired socio-political status. As a result the transformation Victorio undergoes presents him with moral dilemmas he has never considered before, most certainly not during his time as a swindler.
Aside from the rich characters Il Generale Della Rovere also offers the typical for Rossellini cold neo-realism mixed with a healthy dose of Italian melodrama. In fact, despite of its serious tone Il Generale Della Rovere also boasts a good dose of humor and sentimentality. Victorio's struggles to pay off his debts produce some unusually entertaining scenes during which our future hero is snubbed, played with, and unceremoniously rejected.
As the film progresses however De Sica's character grows more and more socially-aware and by the time he fully realizes the role his Nazi friends have chosen for him Il Generale Della Rovere replaces the humor mentioned above with some heavy political propaganda. For the most part Rossellini's move appears quite manageable yet it seems like during selected key scenes the lack of grey (during the second half of the film most everything seems to be painted in positive white and negative black) makes Il Generale Della Rovere less believable.
How Does the Film Look?
I have seen this film only once in my life dubbed in Polish and as I do not speak the language I had to guess what the actors' lines were. Needless to say the VHS I had was of terrible quality as well. I think the year was 1986!
This new and digitally-restored by Minerva-Italia print of Il Generale Della Rovere is just fabulous!!! Spotless and struck from a brand new-master the progressive PAL print delivered by the Italian distribs is easily of Criterion-esque quality, if not better. Rich black and white colors, superb contrast, excellent degree of detail (the night scenes reveal plenty here), lack of any intrusive edge-enhancement, very delicate film grain, and once again a crystal clean image transform this R2 disc into one of the unexpected (but very pleasant) surprises of the year. In fact, just as Antonio Pietrangeli's La Visita a.k.s The Visitor, which should be reviewed on this site shortly, Rossellini's Il Generale Della Rovere appears to have undergone a most impressive (and meticulous) restoration work. To sum it all up: if you had any interest at all in Roberto Rossellini and his early work this disc should quickly find a place on your shelve(s).
This being said, Minerva-Italia present Il Generale Della Rovere in two versions (each version of the film is on an individual disc) as disc one offers the 1959 138min. Venezia-version and disc two offers the shorter 132min cut (Blanco e Nero production cut for Italian cinemas). Both versions preserve the film's original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The disc is Region 2-encoded, PAL.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with its original Italian mono track (on both versions) the audio treatment is just as impressive as the video presentation: restored audio track, crystal clear and extremely easy to follow. I could not detect anything that you should be concerned with. Just an all-around superb presentation!! With optional English subtitles.
Aside from the theatrical trailer and interviews with Renzo Rossellini, Adriano Apra, Aldo Strappini (Italian audio only) the Italian distribs offer two books-Indro Montanelli's Il Generale Della Rovere (in Italian only) and the surprising and filled with notable extras second notebook by Minerva where everything is in English (an Italian section is also available):
"Main Differences between the Venezia and theatrical versions"-
"The Image Aspect Ratio"-
"The Truth of Fiction" by Adriano Apra
"The Facts" by Adriano Apra
"The Venice Screening"
"According to Rossellini"
"According to the Critics"
(Once again, this 74-page booklet is entirely English-friendly)!!!
What a beautiful package!! With an impressive restoration and very classy presentation (this limited edition set is extremely heavy and comes in a large double-sided box) Roberto Rossellini's Il Generale Della Rovere has received an Italian treatment which English-speakers should be delighted with. I know I am!! Excellent!! Highly-Recommended!!!