Francesco De Robertis, Uomini sul fondo (1941)

Roberto Rossellini, Un pilota ritorna (1942)

Augusto Genina, Bengasi (1942)


Rossellini’s Un pilota ritorna revolves around a young pilot who is captured by the British Army in Greece during the Second World War and eventually escapes by stealing a plane and flying back to Italy. The exaltation of daring and courage as Italian qualities during WWII is also the theme of Genina’s Bengasi, which is set in 1941 during Allied occupation of the city, which was part of the Italian empire. The film ends with the city being recaptured by Italian troops. Italian heroism characterizes also Francesco De Robertis’ Uomini sul fondo, which recounts the rescue of the crew of an Italian submarine trapped on the sea floor after an accident.

Main Principles

  1. The Sacralisation of the New Man’s Total Politics through the Arts

  2. Shaping the New Man’s Reality by Fashioning National Myths

  3. Monumentalism: Visualising Subjectivity and Objectivity


The exaltation of the Fascist ethos in hard times times is the fil-rouge connecting these three films. The director of Uomini sul fondo Francesco De Robertis was a career official in the Navy, and he specialised in films with a quasi-documentary style. Uomini sul fondo accordingly echoes some typical documentary stylistic choices; a proto-neorealist aesthetic and some highly intense frames amplify the sense of anxiety that permeates the race against time to rescue the crew. The film as a whole celebrates the superiority of the Italian Navy superiority while lauding the sailor Leandri, who sacrifices himself to enable the other crew members to be rescued. This ultimate sacrifice assumes a Fascist dimension insofar as Leandri’s individual action becomes meaningful in a collective perspective, and such a climax symbolises how art contributed to the sacralisation of individual actswithin the Fascist State’s ethical horizon. Uomini sul fondo’s assistant director was Roberto Rossellini, who addressed individual heroism in his Un pilota ritorna. Interestingly, Mussolini’s son Vittorio also contributed to the screenplay of this film, in which the protagonist Gino Rossati manages to escape from a British prison camp in Greece by stealing a plane and flying back to Italy. The scenes from the air portray the Italian landscape in a highly lyric way, suggesting perhaps that Fascist heroism affords the protagonist a new privileged view of Italy.

The Second World War is portrayed as a litmus test of the power of the Fascist anthropological revolution also in Genina’s Bengasi insofar as Italian inhabitants of the Libyan city resist the invasion of the Allied troops. In this film, scenes of bombings and explosions are interspersed with more reflective frames in which national qualities cultivated by Fascism such as courage and bravery are celebrated. In Bengasi, any potential dichotomy among individual and collective heroism is dissolved and this perspective characterizes also the sacrifice of Leandri in Tre Uomini and the audacity of Rossati in Un pilota. These films were meant to prove that the Fascist anthropological revolution has changed the Italian identity to the extent that it transfigured any individual action in an aesthetic gesture exalting both the religious horizon of the dictatorship and a sense of belonging to the organic state.


Carabba, Claudio. 1974. Il cinema del ventennio nero. Florence: Vallecchi.

Laura, Ernesto G. 2003. ‘I reduci del cinema di Salò.’ In Storia del cinema italiano 1945-1948, edited by Callisto Cosulich. Venice: Marsilio.

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey, Lutton, Sarah and David Forgacs (eds). 2000. Roberto Rossellini: Magician of the Real. London: BFI Publishing.

Gianmarco Mancosu