Roberto Rossellini (Italy, 1948)
An epigraph from Rossellini calls this two-part film “an homage to the art of Anna Magnani,” but “homage” may not be strong enough to describe a work so deeply in the actress’s thrall. Based on a play by Jean Cocteau, the first segment, A Human Voice, focuses intensely on the voice—and face—of Magnani, alone with the telephone, talking her way through the end of love. Promising strength while evincing its opposite, Magnani creates a portrait of implacable grief. The film moves from claustrophobic interiority to the rustic open air for The Miracle, in which Magnani is coarse, funny, and unsentimentally touching as a naive goatherd pregnant by a mysterious stranger whom she believes to be Saint Joseph. Federico Fellini cowrote the script (also appearing as the dubious Joseph), and there is a touch of La strada’s Gelsomina in Magnani’s daft peasant soul. Fellini and Rossellini’s unconventional parable didn’t sit well with the American Catholic church, sparking a protracted censorship battle that ended in a key Supreme Court decision upholding cinematic freedom of speech.
• Written by Rossellini, Tullio Pinelli, Federico Fellini, based on the play La voix humaine by Jean Cocteau and on a story by Fellini. Photographed by Robert Juillard, Aldo Tonti. With Anna Magnani, Federico Fellini. (78 mins, In Italian with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Cinecitta Luce S.p.A., permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)