(director/writer: Roberto Rossellini; screenwriters: from the story by A. Gravelli/ Giovanni D’Alicandro/Alberto Consiglio; cinematographer: Guglielemo Lombardi; editor: Eraldo Da Roma; music: Renzo Rossellini; cast: Alberto Tavazzi (Padre), R. Schmidth (Irina), Attilio Dottesio (Il carrista ferito), Doris Hild (Una contadina russa); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; Stacchini; 1943-Italy, in Italian with English subtitles)
“It is only worth seeing for those who must see everything this prominent director has done.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the third feature film of Rossellini’s (“Paisan”/”Open City”) but what makes it different from his others, is that it has two strikes against it right off the bat. One, it is difficult to read the subtitles because they blend in with the film’s white background. And, secondly, it was made under the Fascist control of Italy, and had features praising their ideology and showing them in a heroic light–making it merely a propaganda film. It was not possible for me to get through the second strike without thinking how far afield the director has gone to make this ill-fated propaganda vehicle, allowing the Catholic religion to be subordinate to Mussolini’s party line. The story centers on a kindly Catholic military chaplain (Tavazzi) on the Eastern Front who volunteers to stay behind when a patient is unable to be moved. The Soviets capture him, and his humanity and fervent belief in God sustains him and the people he comforts on both sides of the war. In contrast to his gentle religious beliefs is the warlike Irina (Schmidth), a woman haunted by her troubled past and prepared to die in battle for the cause. It is filmed in the style approved of by the Fascists that supplants the religious message in favor of the Mussolini party line, and is dedicated to all military chaplains (of course, the Communist Russians don’t have chaplains).

It contains none of the neorealism of Rossellini’s later works, and has little to recommend it as it’s preachy, tedious, and the narrative is poorly developed. This is a rarely seen film and it is only worth seeing for those who must see everything this prominent director has done.

The Man with the Cross Poster