L'Amore (Roberto Rossellini / Italy, 1948):

A bifurcated love letter to Anna Magnani, split into theatrical (Cocteau) and popular (Fellini) halves, all in Roberto Rossellini's handwriting. The first movement finds the diva already aquiver with passion, all but pouring herself into a phone receiver as the lover on the other side of the line grows disinterested, a tower gradually quaking into pebbles. A translation of Cocteau's slim monologue, but first and foremost another Rossellinian reconfiguration of Italian cinema, with the patented prop of telefoni-bianchi drama kept center as the orderliness of the genre is pried open by postwar messiness -- the emotional trajectory is faithfully traced, though Una Voce Umana from the start becomes Una Faccia Umana, scooping every shift in a woman's soul by exalting the surging tides and waves of Magnani's visage in close-up. The segment contemplates the mutually transformative liaison between performer and camera, while Magnani floods the hermetic set until the walls tumble away; critics deemed it unworthy of neorealism, Bergman, Warhol, Almodóvar took notes. Il Miracolo was scarcely better understood, a profound proclamation of faith condemned by the church, as Hail Mary or The Last Temptation of Christ later. Fellini's peasant anecdote ventures outdoors, but it's no less of a one-woman show for Magnani, a shepherdess who comes across a bearded traveler (Fellini himself) whom she takes to be St. Joseph. She fervidly describes the fire and light within her, he pulls out a bottle of wine and nods; she rolls in the grass, ecstatically carnal, fade to black, a goat wakes her by licking her face. Was she blessed by a saint or fucked by a con man? One local monk doesn't believe in miracles, another gesticulates comically: "He's a materialist!" In any case, pregnancy summons forth the townspeople's noisy derision, and she's driven from the village via a mock-Calvary, an empty bowl for a crown of thorns (halo?); thematic vestiges would reappear in Nights of Cabiria and Juliet of the Spirits, but the humbling lack of divide between the physical and the spiritual belongs to the maker of Flowers of St. Francis. The heroine climbs the hills and gives birth while alone with nature and the heavens -- the miracle is life, and emotion, faith, expression, Rossellini, Magnani. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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