Wednesday, March 20, 2024


Diptych Film: Una voca humana and Il miracolo

In 1948, Roberto Rossellini turned out an unusual picture simply titled L'amore [Love]. Unusual? Rossellini binds two medium-length stories back-to-back (the one adapted from Jean Cocteau [Una voca humana / A Human Voice], the other from Federico Fellini [Il miracolo / The Miracle], who as a player also features), and it's difficult to find a throughline among what isn't unusual — maybe this diptych was made for the piece of eight; love takes two. L'amore or Love are therefore terms so general and frequently used as to come off as meaningless, or rather as the most important concepts of all, the most sincere in success or failure. 

The triptych of Ford's The Rising of the Moon or Ophüls' La ronde attest to the strengths of the cine-novella.

Una voca humana takes place in a single location, with a single character: Anna Magnani in the midst of a fraught one-way telephone conversation with a lover. An extraordinary sequence. These scenes (this scene) predict early- and mid-career Bergman. Would the idiosyncratic Master-Swede give this movie the time of day? Like Nabokov, he hated many of his equals. Ingmar would be repulsed, I believe, by the drawing of a comparison between a work like Una voca humana and the secular spirituality of early Antonioni. If Magnani had activated Rossellini's first act of modernist rebellion in Rome Open City, L'amore represents the major second.

With Il miracolo, Rossellini moves from inside to out, from torpor to vivification. Images of sublimity in the 'traditional' manner of the sublime build here, whereas in Una voca humana the sublime reveals itself less overtly.

The Magnani character, Nanni, somewhat daft, encounters on a hillside a man (Fellini) she perceives as St. Joseph. Two immediate clues of amissness: the resemblance of Joseph/Felliini with a faun; the presence of a wedding band on his ring finger. Nanni takes a couple draughts of wine, falls into a stupor; the man is gone when she awakens. She later takes her pregnancy to be an immaculate conception.

The dance between a universal love and an earthly love. "He took some bread and broke it." Pity the discourteous, test the naïve.

Modernism <=> naturalism. Nanni awakens surrounded by goats, the right side of her face illuminated by sunlight. The handheld backward traveling/dolly shot ascends the steps in the neighborhood. 

She sucks the water from the rocks. "Nanni, they're honoring you." Rossellini films Magnani the only way imaginable: with love. The church is closed to her, but the child is born.


Writing on the films of Roberto Rossellini previously here at the blog.

Fantasia sottomarina [Undersea Fantasy] [1938]

La vispa Teresa [Lively Teresa] [1940]

Il tacchino prepotente [The Bullying Turkey] [1940]