A City of Myth

Written by  Elettra Testi
Between realism and transfiguration, the image of Ferrara in the short stories and novels by Gian Franco Rossi.
"When reality outstrips the imagination, WHEN events tell their own story... THEN the writer must be their photographer, even if this means transforming himself INTO a cold reporter." So says Gian Franco Rossi in the short story L'intermediario, from 1987. The will to become the photographer of a reality that precedes the act of writing lends his words the ring of a neo-realist poetics. The work that seems closest to a naturalistic style is La contentezza, from 1981. In I pappi, the drama does not take long to unfold. The adulterous love affair of Azeglia, who is in love with her brother-in-law, soon becomes a perjurious oath: "may my son die, if I have betrayed my husband" the woman solemnly swears in the presence of the gossips; a few days later fate intervenes and the little boy dies. Here there is all the atmosphere of Antonioni's early work, but in a lower key.

A master of silences, Rossi forswears all comment; he stops short of all intrusion. But his narrative mechanisms do not always work this way. Subsequently, they take on a circular movement in which the overlapping of incoherent thoughts, euphoric moments, and obsessions lasts for a span of Bergson's "lived TIME". This is Rossi's poetic world, made up of characters in pursuit of solitude, inasmuch as only solitude permits an opaque sort of happiness for these anti-heroes of life that look on at the spectacle of existence from the outside. Yet this is no arid humanity, if anything it is humanity unfulfilled, tending toward risk and the invention of a destiny.
In the work of the Ferrarese writer there is a recurrence of presences that are sometimes disquieting, sometimes foreboding, emblems of destiny, of the unknown, of mystery. Nor should the apparently realistic representation of the city fool anyone. Like Moravia, he is not a writer of nature or a landscape painter, but a writer of the city, of houses, of the street. Rossi's Ferrara, however, is not Moravia's Rome, but a place of the soul, a city of myth in a decadent world, a "city OF roofs" on which cats redolent of Chagall dance.

In its continuity, the fiction of Gian Franco Rossi undergoes a change. For example in the brief and concentrated time spans of the short stories, to the extended span of the novels. In 1986 he published I sogni ricorrenti di Biagio Balestrieri. The dream that best reveals the keynote of the book is the one about the garden in flower. The protagonist roams among endless beds of tulips, anemones, and blue flowers that suddenly change into nettles. The dream is a metaphor for defloration, identified with death. As a matter of fact Rossi is an erotic writer, but his most suggestive pages are not those in which everything is made explicit. Rossi's eroticism is a contorted one that calls up forbidden, stolen pleasures, and yet, his violations are innocent, all judgement is suspended: the author's sole ethical principle is the courage required to write.

This brings us to the second transformation. In 1989 the novel L'intreccio, in which the author numbers himself among the characters, was published.
For the first time Rossi tackles the Pirandellian relationship between the author and his characters, defining himself as "one who still wants TO invent stories (...) a man who tells what he has seen AND THEN deforms it." The writer has opened the door from behind which he spied on other people's lives, to seek in the city of myth the web of his plots, insofar as the quest for inspiration involves the writer's taking a chance and going "RIGHT TO the bottom OF his own private hell". But that hell is not yet accessible: the singularity of the sign and the image must be sundered if the possibility of memory is to emerge.

There were few of us around that evening when Gian Franco told of his flight to Switzerland in the days of Fascism and the race laws, of when his life was saved as a child by a partisan, of separation from his family, of refuge in a college, and of his nostalgia for Ferrara. "Why don't you write?" we asked him. "The time has not yet come" he replied. Then, between '91 AND '95, the time came. Gian Franco Rossi disinterred the time of injustice, of blame, of remorse, and the Jewish-Ferrarese trilogy was born.

In 1997 Rossi published Gli amici del buio, the friends of the cinema. Usherettes, cashier, and spectators are the new protagonists since the cinema is a place devoted entirely to story telling, a strange region where truth and fiction converge, where the author-director can finally set up the screen of his own mental cinema, one in which all deceptions are allowed.

Latest from Elettra Testi