Tuesday 13 January 2015

Francesco Rosi, Italian master film-maker, dies at 93

Way back in the early sixties Charlie Palumbo ran a business called World Films out of a shopfront in Victoria Street, North Melbourne. He supplied films, in Melbourne at least, to several inner suburban cinemas. Several of those cinemas were run by the then Tony Zeccola (now Cav. Antonio Zeccola) and for awhile there they filled up each week with Italian immigrants and their children who came out to see the latest film starring Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren and lots of other pneumatic females, Toto or Franco Franchi & Ciccio Ingrassia among others. It was a profitable little enterprise for all concerned and lasted well into the seventies. Tony even acquired the mighty Hoyts Padua in Brunswick, a magnificent art deco masterpiece that seated over 2000 people, sited on the very top of the hill on Sydney Road and filled it up regularly. Almost all of the films were screened in their original Italian language without subtitles.

Except, for one film. (or so we thought). Somehow or other Charlie acquired the rights to Francesco Rosi's Salvatore Giuliano and first screened it out at Clifton Hill. He didn't show it to critics but somehow or other the word got round. By the time the discovery had been made, Charlie was showing something else. But Leon Boyle, the adventurous manager of the Australia Cinema, an art house in the heart of the city underneath the Australia Hotel in Collins Street, heard about it and was aware that the film had started to garner quite a reputation. He contacted Charlie and arranged to have some late night, irregularly scheduled screenings which attracted a bit of a crowd. I think Charlie may have been a bit perplexed by this, not knowing that the film was getting attention in what Andrew Sarris once termed, some quarters and quarterlies.

It probably wasn't the first Francesco Rosi film to screen in Australia. I wouldn't mind betting that Charlie had probably screened at least the director's earlier debut La Sfida (The Challenge, 1958 another expose of the seedy links between business and crime but I don't know that for certain. But Salvatore Giuliano surprised in more ways than one, most notably for the way it told the story of the Sicilian bandit of the title, for the way it implicated the authorities in the brutal suppression of what was seen by some as local banditry and by others as a revolutionary liberation movement.

From then on, Rosi's films moved out of the Italian language belt and into the art houses and the film festival programs. His films had major international distribution and attracted stars to his casts. My favourites include the Sciascia adaptation Caddaveri Eccellenti, his neo-realist adaptation of Bizet's Carmen, the splendid fairy tale More than a Miracle  and many others. His was a career of the first order, lasting some 50 years or more.

Rosi died a couple of days ago and there is splendid obituary for him on the Sight and Sound webpage if you google it. (Pardon but my control button has gone on the blink and I cant do links at the moment.) He was 93.


  1. I seem to recall Columbia picking up the international rights to Salvatore Giuliano which played briefly at (maybe) Melbourne's Grosvenor Theatre in a bastardised ,dubbed print .. My vote for Rosi's finest would be for The Mattei Affair (1972) with a typically explosive performance by Gian Maria Volonte .

    1. Agree that The Mattei Affair is one of his best. Also the only one where he plays a role himself as the somewhat shadowy journalist/reporter/investigator. Hard to find these days though I suspect that Neil_mcglone@yahoo.com may be able to track one down


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