“Defiantly and majestically cinema à la Rossellini” (Andrew Sarris), Socrates was a film Rossellini had wanted to make since the early Fifties. The film brilliantly recreates ancient Athens and the last days of the orator and philosopher with whom the director clearly identified. (Massimo Olmi’s touching account of the shooting of the film ends with this telling observation: “Patriarch Rossellini, patriarch Socrates, both absorbed in the difficult delivery of Truth,” which is echoed in Michael McKegney’s review of the film in The Village Voice: “Two great men separated by so many centuries seem to speak with one voice to a race which controls the atom and the atmosphere but seems to have forgotten why: ‘Know thyself.’”) Rossellini’s serene, sometimes shocking account of Socrates’ life and philosophy characteristically fastens on fact rather than myth, placing the prodigious figure in a detailed setting of the city with its workers and merchants, and a mundane domestic world of meals, servants, and an impulsive wife. Its irony also restrains any reverence for the great philosopher, emphasizing his foibles as well as his grandeur: when we first meet him, he has spent two days wandering about the city after forgetting that he left home to buy bread. The trial of Socrates for impiety and “corrupting the young” is high drama, and the final sequences, in which his family and followers gather in a cave as he is about to die, have a simple, resounding eloquence. “There is in this fidelity a kind of beauty and poetry that are all but unknown in the work of other contemporary filmmakers” (Vincent Canby, The New York Times). —Cinematheque Ontario
Rossellini was one of the directors of the Italian neorealist cinema, contributing films such as Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City 1945) to the movement.
In 1937, Rossellini made his first documentary, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. After this essay, he was called to assist Goffredo Alessandrini in making Luciano Serra pilota, one of the most successful Italian films of the first half of the 20th century. In 1940 he was called to assist Francesco De Robertis on Uomini sul Fondo.His close friendship with Vittorio Mussolini, son of Il Duce, has been interpreted as a possible reason for having been preferred to other apprentices.
Some authors describe the first part of his career as a sequence of trilogies. His first feature film, La nave bianca (1942) was sponsored by the audiovisual propaganda centre of Navy Department and is the first work in Rossellini’s “Fascist Trilogy”, together with Un pilota ritorna (1942) and Uomo dalla Croce (1943). To this period belongs… read more
I liked the trial section to the ending, but the endless scenes of talking before hand drew me down a bit. I did notice the effect of cutting between random people blathering on and Socrates made me focus on Socrates more, but I feel like a shorter, more succinct approach would have worked better. What Rossellini examines here is important, it just felt dull in its presentation.