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Open City, a powerful Italian film directed by Roberto Rosselini in 1946,
a historically-based story of the Italian Resistance movement and its
struggle against Nazi occupation. The film is a searing indictment of the
Nazis and a powerful portrayal of the dignity and courage of the Italian
With the city's studios destroyed, Rosselini was forced to shoot his film in the streets on stock that was purchased bit by bit, then taped together. It was shot almost immediately after the city was liberated from the Germans while the Germans still occupied the streets. Naturally, the quality of the print (although on DVD) is limited by the kind of stock that had to be used. The resulting film, however, is unique and deeply moving, and is a film of historic importance.
Open City was the first of the great Italian Neo-realist films (followed by Paisan, The Bicycle Thief, Shoeshine, I Vitteloni, and Umberto D). These films were characterized by the use of non-professional actors, natural lighting, location shooting, the desire to get closer to everyday reality, and the struggle for dignity of the masses of people.
Though I strongly recommend this film, there are a few minor quibbles. The Nazi leaders are portrayed as homosexuals who are associated with a decadent life style. This is contrasted with the Resistance representing the church and the family. Though I do not grant the Nazis much in the way of humanity, I think these broad strokes only obscure rather than clarify. Likewise, there is an over- identification of the Resistance as Communist. Though the Communist Party made up a good part of the Resistance, it also included Christian Democrats and Socialists.
Open City, though depressing in its presentation, remains hopeful. This hope for the future is symbolized at the end of the film by the children making their way back down into the streets of Rome after witnessing an execution. This attitude is also expressed by Francesco as he talks to Pina (Anna Magnani) in the flats, "We must believe it, we must want it,, We musn't be afraid because we are on the just path.We're fighting for something that must come. It may be long..it may be difficult, but there'll be a better world."
56 years later, we're still waiting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The experience of defeat and occupation with the daily humiliations,
was happily not one that the Americans or British had to undergo... But
for those countries which did suffer under the frame of foreign
oppressionFrance, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Polandthe experience left
a heritage of bitterness deeply evident in their films...
Italy, however, was a special and unusual case: it was occupied by two opposing armiesthe German and the American at the same time... And as neither side trusted the Italians they were left to get on with their own internal political quarrels of partisans versus fascist, within the limits, of course, of occupation...
It was these experiences that Roberto Rossellini recorded in his trilogy about war 'Rome, Open City', 'Paisá,' and 'Germany Year Zero.'
Rossellini called 'Rome, Open City' a film about 'fear, everyone's fear, but above all my own.'
Made under difficult a penurious circumstances towards the war's end, the film captures with an astonishing consciousness the whole experience... There is no need to recreate anything for it is all there, in the ruined buildings and in the people's faces... Rossellini had 'planted the camera in the middle of real life' and so spearheaded the Neo-realist film revival...
But Rossellini did more than just film things as they were... His creative genius molded what existed into a film of overpowering impact, an impact which does not recede with the passing of years... Out of his own particular situation he has created a magnificent story of resistance both concrete and spiritual which could not be broken by force... And in fact, it is only broken by the promise of luxury: Marina betrays her lover because she has been caught up in the decadence of the oppressor's world... But Manfredi when caught does not crack under the brutal torture...
Rossellini endows all those who resist, whether Communist or Catholic, with a special kind of purity... Manfredi, Francesco, Pina (played by the magnificent Anna Magnani), and the children all seem to have drunk of the same deep and clear well of faith... We see this especially in the priest, Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi), a kind man, wedded to a faith which obviously based on a true Christian humility... His humble activities as resistance worker only underline what he is already... 'It is my duty to help those who need it,' he answers when asked why he is taking such great risks... And when he is captured and tortured by the Gestapo he accepts his fate: 'It is not difficult to die well. It is difficult to live well.'
Rosselini shot 'Roma Città Aperta' in the open streets post-war. His
film-making resources were limited, as is apparent in the film, since
he uses natural lighting, non-professional actors and a delicate sound
system) but it only gives the film a stark and more authentic look
making the atmosphere more terrifying and a the experience more real.
Most of the 'props' and 'sets' and even many of the Nazi soldiers were
real. Unlike many historical films, this one does right by the
historical facts (even though it's a work of fiction).
What is most outstanding is Rosselini's compelling storytelling. Instead of showing us a documentary account (due to lack of film-equipments) he gives us a moving story of resistance. I was also impressed by the subtle way he brought out the characters such as the homosexuality of the Nazis. He also extracts marvelous performances from his actors. Aldo Fabrizi and Anna Magnani stand out. The background score (though used minimally) adds some melodrama but not in a poor way.
If one can look beyond the poor technology of the film, 'Roma Città Aperta' is one of the most powerful films of its genre. Though the film may depress, and at some point horrify the viewer, the ending is profound and hopeful. In the end, it's a story about fear, courage, integrity and hope.
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
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.
Roberto Rossellini's Open City contains characters so real and emotions so powerful that it is not unusual for audiences to wonder whether the drama being played out on the screen is in truth a bona fide documentation of events surrounding the Italian Resistance during WWII. A study of the production history reveals that the film is closer to a combination of pure documentation (most accounts will go into detail about the location shooting and the presence of real soldiers) and dramatic reconstruction of actual events (like the execution of priest Don Morosini by the Nazis) with some lyrical filmmaking thrown in for good measure (I still get chills down my spine when I hear the children whistling in defiance of their oppressors). Anna Magnani, one of the greatest performers in the history of Italian cinema, is absolutely amazing in this film.
During the Nazi occupation of Rome, the resistance leader Giorgio
Manfredi aka Luigi Ferrari (Marcello Pagliero) is chased by the
Gestapo. His friend Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), who is going to
marry the widow Pina (Anna Magnani), together with the priest Don
Pietro Pellegrini (Aldo Frabrizi) help him to get a new identity and
leave Rome. However, Manfredi is betrayed by his lover Marina Mari
(Maria Michi) and arrested by the Germans.
"Roma, Città Aperta" is among the best movies of the cinema history, but in accordance with IMDb criteria, it is not listed in IMDb Top 250. This masterpiece is a milestone of the Italian Neo-Realism and was filmed by Roberto Rossellini when the economical and social structure of Italy was completely destroyed due to the World War II. Rossellini did not have money even to buy the negatives, which were given by his friends. He used ordinary people and real locations to shot the film, making a very authentic and realistic movie as if it were a documentary, and the negatives were only revealed in the end of the shootings. The Brazilian DVD released by Versatil distributor offers many Extras, including a magnificent documentary about the life of Roberto Rossellini. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): "Roma, Cidade Aberta" ("Rome, Open City")
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Roma, citta aperta" is a film that cries for a Martin Scorsese to come
to its aid in restoring it. There are sequences that are barely
visible, as proved by the recent showing on the Sundance channel.
Roberto Rossellini deserves better. We are even surprised that his own
daughter, Isabella, so well connected with the world of cinema, has not
done more to champion the restoration of this masterpiece.
Most comments in IMDb dismiss the film without taking in consideration the impact it had when it made its debut. If not for anything, the people that worked in the period of the post war, took advantage in showing a reality to the viewers and revolutionized the Italian cinema forever. The neo-realists were notorious for engaging non-actors to portray the characters they created. It's easy to be critical of those movies that came out during those years and make comparisons based on today's tastes.
Roberto Rossellini was a genius who saw the movie industry destroyed during the terrible WWII days. Out of the necessity, the neo-realism style came into being. Directors from that period saw the opportunity to do things differently by bringing the actual filming into the streets of Italy. It was a way for making movies that didn't conform to the established rules up to that point.
"Roma, citta aperta" was Rossellini's way for analyzing what went wrong in his country. One the one hand he presents us the forces of evil, in this case the Germans, that wanted to the oppressed masses, the Italians, in a story that puts them at odds and that would favor the enemy because they had the power and their country's leader was collaborating with the invading forces.
There is a sublime appearance by Anna Magnani, perhaps the best Italian actress of all times, that is worth the price of admission. Even though she only appears for a short period, her presence looms large in the film and in our heart. We watch, horrified, as Pina runs after the truck where Francesco is being hauled to prison for a fate that seemed clear to Pina. That sequence will remain one of Rossellini's best achievements.
Rossellini also shows how demoralized the Germans were. There are also hints of homosexuality, as well as lesbianism, in the movie. This fact, also plays in our consciousness as to how we perceive them. The betrayal of Pina's sister shows how some people collaborated with the enemy in order to get the material things they couldn't get otherwise.
In addition to Anna Magnani, there are great appearances by Aldo Fabrizi, Marcello Pagliero, Nando Bruno, Giovanna Galletti, and Henry Feist. The music score is by Renzo Rossellini which plays well with the story. Ubaldo Arata's cinematography stands to be enjoyed more if the film would be restored to its original glory.
This was Roberto Rossellini's masterpiece.
The physical quality of this film is off-putting,( the film makers had to use what they could find) but the overall impact is stunning. The talent involved in telling a simple story of outrageous courage is breathtaking. If action is your genre, stay away, but if you can handle a great story well told find a copy of this film. These people understood drama, life, and the human condition.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This shattering portrait of Rome under the Nazi occupation officially ushered in the wave of neo-realist films after World War II. The images have indelibly etched themselves into our minds: the stunning Gestapo round-up sequence, the death of Pina before the eyes of her cassocked altar-boy little son, the torture of the members of the resistance, the courage of the children, the execution of the priest, the earthy beauty of Anna Magnani's face. They all have an immediacy and power that make this one of the most stupendous filmic achievements of all time. If world cinema lacked ROMA, CITTA' APERTA it would be unimaginably poorer. I can think of no better praise.
Photographed on scraps of film abandoned by German forces as they
retreated from Rome toward the end of World War II, Roberto
Rossellini's OPEN CITY was immediately hailed as a masterpiece of
realism when it hit screens around the world in the late 1940s. Seen
within the context of its time and with reference to the circumstances
under which it was made, OPEN CITY is a staggering accomplishment; even
so, by modern standards, it feels visually static and slightly
The great strength of the film is in the direct way Rossellini tells his story of Italian resistance fighters trying to dodge capture by the Nazis in occupied Rome--and in the performances of Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi as two Italians who become increasingly caught up in resistance activities. But time has not been entirely kind to the film: the story seems somewhat superficial, portions of it lack expected intensity, and some performances seem more than a little artificial, with a lesbian subplot, the famous torture scenes, and Maria Mitchi's performance cases in point.
Ironically, these drawbacks actually result from comparisons with later, still more realistic films that followed its example--and it is a great tribute to the strength of the film that it survives the revolution it started as well as it does. (One does well to recall that at the time OPEN CITY was made such slick Hollywood films as MRS. MINIVER were considered the height of realism.) Still, because of these issues I would hesitate to recommend OPEN CITY as an introduction to Italian neo-realism for one not already well-versed in it. But those with an established appreciation of Italian cinema will find it very rewarding.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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