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Vittorio De Sica
During the First World War, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German POW camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress which seems impossible to escape from.
Rome, 1944. Giorgio Manfredi, one of the leaders of the Resistance, is tracked down by the Nazis. He goes to his friend Francesco's, and asks Pina, Francesco's fiancée, for help. Pina must warn a priest, Don Pietro Pellegrini, that Giorgio needs to leave the town as soon as possible ... Written by
Then I'll tell you who he is. He's subversive, he's fought with the Reds in Spain. His life is dedicated to fighting society, religion. He is an atheist... your enemy...
I am a Catholic priest. I believe that those who fight for justice and truth walk in the path of God and the paths of God are infinite
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Over time, Rossellini's legacy has been overshadowed by that of his contemporaries Fellini and de Sica. There are reasons for this. Fellini had a unique cinematographic eye and a gift for abstract symbolism. De Sica was able to capture the incidental and indeterminate in a way that practically elevated it to the level of the holy. His use of non-actors was far more effective than Rossellini's, as was Fellini's use of actors. Rossellini's scripts were often two-dimensional, his cinematography spotty and his editing odd. So why is it that he occupies a leading position among Italian auteurs?
In fact, Rossellini was not a neo-realist, but a realist. Compared with products of the neo-realists, his films are thin and wooden. If, on the other hand, one views them as works of tragedy, they are excellent. From the very start of Open City, it is clear that the seeds of disaster are sewn. A pregnant mother is to be married to a member of the resistance. Members of the clergy and children are also involved in fighting the Nazis. Italians are united against a common enemy: Fascism. Yet we know that, while victory is inevitable, so is death. Perhaps it is the darkness of the tight, seedy interiors that tips us off. Perhaps it is because we do not feel that sense of endlessness beyond the screen, but that we are being led through these building and streets along with the characters. Perhaps is is the German marching songs. Whatever it is, we feel the march of destiny leading us to some terrible conclusion. Fate can never play a role in neo-realist work; by Bazin's definition, it is constructed organically and arrives at its destination as if by chance. Tragedy can only be the purview of the realist.
Open City is not without its liabilities. For one, Arata's cinematography, while startling at times, is unsatisfactory at others. The script, written by Fellini and Amidei, is confusing and allows for minimal character development. [N.B.: The English subtitles add to this confusion, excising whole chunks of crucial dialogue.] Several of the performances are undynamic, such as those of Maria Michi and Carla Rovere; the villains, portrayed by Giovanna Gallett and Harry Feist, are very much "in type"; Aldo Fabrizi, who, as Don Pietro, is so central to the plot, is guilty of overacting. Above all, one doesn't get the sense that Rossellini's camera "falls in love" with its subjects the way that one might wish it did. Yet it is in this very impassiveness, this plastic script and detached camera, that the key to Open City lies. This is not a film about a painter and his son, nor does it lovingly portray an old pensioner and his dog. This film is about the horrors of war, not a subject for which Rossellini expects to find an empathetic audience. In the absence of footlights and the invisible "third wall", he uses the greatest tool at his disposal to create tragic theater: our own lack of nobility.
Open City is a portrait of human courage in the face of overwhelming odds. It confronts us with horrors which, God willing, we may never know. Don't watch it expecting to fall in love with the grittiness of World War II era Italy. Expect to be deeply moved.
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