Rosi was born and raised in a middle-class home in Naples, a city long infested by mafia and graft, and later moved to Rome, where he died, the mayor and culture minister said in a statement. The cause of death was not given.
“With Rosi we lose a master, a man of culture, a lucid eye with a great commitment to civil society,” Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said.
Inspired by Italy’s post-World War Two neo-realist filmmakers, some of Rosi’s best movies delved into the stories of real people entangled in shadowy webs of power that ultimately led to their demise.
“Salvatore Giuliano” (1962), for example, was about a flamboyant Sicilian bandit said to have been killed in 1950 either by police or a fellow mobster. “The Mattei Affair” (1972) was about oil executive Enrico Mattei who died when his plane crashed in mysterious circumstances in 1962.
“The Mattei Affair” won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972. Rosi also won the Golden Lion at the Venice in 1963 for “Hands over the City”, a drama about political corruption in Naples.
At the beginning of “Hands over the City”, Rosi describes his cinematic approach on screen, as words appear overlayed on panoramic images of the city below, reading: “The people and facts in this narrative are imaginary, but the social and environmental reality that produces them is authentic.”
American actor Rod Steiger played a leading role in “Hands over the City”, and Sophia Loren and Omar Sharif were stars in Rosi’s 1967 film “More Than a Miracle”, a fairy-tale story of romance that diverged from his more serious work.
Rosi’s politically hued films resonated deeply in Italy during the 1970s, when the country was torn by rightist and leftist violence – the so-called “Years of Lead”.
He was awarded a second Golden Lion in Venice in 2012 for his career contribution to cinema.
“His work has influenced generations of filmmakers around the world for its method, style, moral severity and the ability to bring urgent social issues onto the screen,” Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera said of Rosi at the time.