Viva L'Italia! (Roberto Rossellini / Italy, 1961):

The unification of Italy from Messina to Volturno, the past made flesh by Roberto Rossellini in a commemorative mood. Il Tricolore sways splendidly under the credits and then over a map of fragmented states circa 1860, a orchestral preamble concluding with a skirmish against an electric cobalt sky. Garibaldi (Renzo Ricci) is middle-aged, ginger-bearded, rheumatic, and utterly, serenely determined; before battle, he squats by the meadow to savor some local bread: "Anyone have any salt?" As the Redshirts charge uphill, the camera takes a paradoxically distant and urgent view of the clashing brigades and puffs of gunsmoke dotting the landscape -- a study in long shots, a cosmic vantage. A sprawling pan right outlines the Calabrese coast, a reverse zoom reveals the regiment stationed on the opposite beachfront, then a pan left to follow an officer into town and a tilt up to the top of a tower (one take). Clandestine meetings and round-ups introduce a whiff of derring-do, a shepherdess (Giovanna Ralli) sacrifices herself and is eulogized like the Sicilian girl in Paisŕ, a trampled body beneath the steamroller of history. A burro ride down winding roads by ancient ruins, an euphoric victory in a Palermo plaza accompanied by Tina Louise ("una giornalista francesa") and Alexandre Dumas ("caro amigo!"). Wellman’s The Story of G.I. Joe, Carlo Bossoli and Francesco Hayez, Vidor’s War and Peace. King Francesco II (Raimondo Croce) ponders the situation and steps down like Renoir’s Louis XVI in La Marseillaise, "let us put on a good face." The adventure of the Risorgimento, a vision of reconstruction from a director who witnessed the nation's fall. The climax adduces a note of distinctly Fordian sorrow, with Garibaldi placed on reserve by the Piedmontese army and ruminating from the back of a departing boat like Rossellini himself at the mercy of dull critics. A rousing national epic in Eastman color, a bedrock formation for later portraits of monarchs and apostles and messiahs. With Paolo Stoppa, Franco Interlenghi, Leone Botta, and Giovanni Petti.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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