Rome Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945): Italy

Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy.  Viewed on DVD.

  During war time, a city may be declared open by the current government, in order to avoid further bombing and devastation.  Rome Open City takes place in Rome, at a pivotal time during WWII.  With the Nazi Party and Italian Fascists still running the city, evidence of the impending Americans and Allied Forces are clearly visible amongst debris of bombed out buildings.

Pina (Anna Magnani) is pregnant, unwed, and mother to a young boy named Marcello (Vito Annicchiarico), who secretly plants and ignites bombs with other friends to aid the Italian Resistance.  Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet) is Pina’s fiancé, and a member of the  Resistance, and although he’s not religious, Francesco has agreed to be married in The Church by Pina’s priest Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi), who also happens to work underground with the Resistance.

Giorgio (Marcello Pagliero) is Francesco’s Communist friend, and an important leader in the Resistance.  He’s wanted by the Gestapo, and his lover Marina (Maria Michi), is an addict, who’s enticed by the Nazi’s to betray her confidences for profit.

In the midst of rubble, poverty, hunger and hopelessness, the citizens rely on hope, generosity of others, and daily rations.  Being allotted only 4 ounces a day, the local women and children storm a bakery, and come away with their bags full of panino, while an Italian sergeant, hungry himself, looks the other way, yet Pina generously shares a couple of loaves with him.

While walking home with Don Pietro, Pina admits she has led a “bad life,” and tells Don Pietro he could “never understand,” and while we the audience, are privy to Don Pietro’s underground work, Pina is not – Don Pietro replies “we have so much to be forgiven for.”

Two years into the invasion with no end in sight, Pina confides to Francesco that sometimes she “just can’t go on.”  Francesco comforts her, saying “the road will be long and hard…but we’ll see a better world, and our children especially will see it, that’s why you mustn’t ever be afraid.”  Hopelessly thinking of her young son, and the second child on the way, Pina replies “si, Francesco, [tears welling up in her eyes] but I’m never afraid.”

Rome Open City led to the dawning of a new film movement known as Italian Neorealism (or new realism), with themes that surrounded realistic social issues of the lower working class, structured by post-war trauma, and based heavily on emotions with little to no moral judgments made.  This involved heavy use of on-location shooting, and lower grade film stock, which offered an immediacy to the look and feel of the film, and was due in part to a lack of proper funding or available supplies.

With a vague plot line and simplistic shooting style (or style-less), the subtle messages speak of the endurance of the next generation.  The depth of the film may truly be found in what is said, rather than how much is said, while the focus is placed on the subtle (or natural) acting style – a film lover cannot walk away from this film without falling in love with Anna Magnani’s low-key, heartfelt sincerity.

Rome Open City won several international awards, and was nominated for an Academy Award in Best Writing, and must be viewed twice to fully appreciate.







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