Il Generale Della Rovere

Il Generale Della Rovere


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Italy, in the late stages of the Second World War. Two men leading very different lives are heading for trouble. One of them is Grimaldi (Vittorio de Sica), a conman forced to take increasingly desperate measures by his gambling addiction and expensive girlfriend. The other is the much admired resistance leader General della Rovere, who is shot as he tries to escape from his Nazi captors.

When Grimaldi is captured, turned in by a woman he tried to swindle, Colonel Mueller (Hannes Messemer) the Nazi officer in charge of his case, decides to take advantage of the situation. Nobody in the resistance yet knows that Rovere is dead. Grimaldi is known for his talent at impersonation - he has already been passing himself off as a colonel. Mueller could have him shot, but instead he offers a deal: if Grimaldi will impersonate the general in prison and help to uncover the identity of another leader, he may live. Soon the war will be over and he can quietly return to his previous life.

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It's an intriguing set up for a film which, sadly, never quite lives up to expectations. This is partly because the process of setting it up takes too long and, Grimaldi being a necessarily unpleasant character, it's hard to remain concerned about him during the early part of the film. Once he is plunged into the prison environment and is in genuine peril, this changes. Although there is little in the way of emotive expression in the film, it's clear that he is facing moral difficulties, as well as fear, and that this is gradually changing his character. The subtext is, of course, a gradual subsuming of Grimaldi's own unstable personality into that of the man he is impersonating; this contrasts with the way in which Grimaldi grows apart from Mueller, a man whom he has previously found it easy to be close to. His chameleon nature could be taken to stand for Italy itself, initially seduced by the Nazis and gradually building up an increasing force of resistance as its own culture reasserted itself. But of course, throwing off its shackles cost Italy dearly and there will be no easy way out for Grimaldi either.

Though it has its a few plot twists up its sleeve and manages to produce some moral quandaries for Mueller, too, Il Generale Della Rovere never quite manages to build up the tension that a film like this needs. At over two hours in length it feels padded. It does, however, benefit from the beautiful photography found in all Rossellini's work, and it has a powerful ending which serves to remind us of what the great director could do at his best.

Reviewed on: 20 Apr 2011
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Il Generale Della Rovere packshot
A captured conman is persuaded to impersonate a rebel leader to get information in a prison.
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Director: Roberto Rossellini

Writer: Sergio Amidei, Diego Fabbri

Starring: Vittorio De Sica, Hannes Messemer, Vittorio Caprioli, Sandra Milo

Year: 1959

Runtime: 132 minutes

Country: Italy, France


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