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(Some spoilers) This vehicle for the great actress Anna Magnani was one of the four made for Italian television and shown in 1971-1972 at the end of her career. The other three were "La sciantosa," "Correva l'anno di grazia 1870," and "L'automobile" and were all directed by Alfredo Giannetti. This is an appealing and understated film set in Rome during the Nazi occupation, but without the it's-happening-now tension of Rossellini's opus, "Open City," which also featured Anna Magnani. Its aims are more modest, but the film is still very moving. One scene, in which Magnani runs after her friend who is being taken away by the Germans, recalls her culminating scene in "Open City."
Enrico Maria Salerno is Stelvio, a former officer in the Italian army, now on the hide after September 8, 1943, when Marshall Badoglio signed an armistice with the Allies, and Mussolini had been imprisoned by the king. Many Italian men shed their uniform and made every effort now to avoid the Germans, former allies now turned enemies, and in some cases, join the partisans. The war was far from over. Trying to avoid a roundup by the Germans who are deporting Italian men to Germany for forced labor (while Italian Jews are being sent to the camps), he runs into a day-hotel where he collides with Jolanda (Magnani) who takes him under her wing. In her apartment Stelvio fixes her shower head and steals some hidden sausages, arousing Magnani's Romanesque fury. But a romance ensues nevertheless, despite the sausages, and there is a growing tenderness between these two solitary souls in the midst of this wartime uncertainty and deprivation. Jolanda is an unmarried nurse; Stelvio has never really experienced love.
Survival is the name of the game, despite the romantic idyll of the couple and the loving moments they spend together. They go off to the country on bicycles, with the idea if scavenging for food. In one of the film's most strangely moving moments, a country boy tries to sell them two eggs. They say no, fearful of breaking them. The boy is thunderstruck as though his entire future has been shattered.
The country village they bed in provides no real respite. There is an air raid. There is a further round-up by the Germans in which the testy Stelvio is taken away and separated form Jolanda. Jolanda, through a friend who works for the railroad, is able to "encounter" her friend for one last time and she speaks to him in a railroad station yard, as his boxcar is about to move off. They may or may not see each other again.
The others in the boxcar with Stelvio (many of them are Jews off to the death camps) drop notes for relatives through the grating of the train car, and with a sense of the overwhelming magnitude of her unexpected mission, Jolanda promises to deliver the messages to their loved ones, the last words they may receive.
The ending has this added poignancy because suddenly the issue is no longer merely a romance between two people. Each senses the greater urgency and their need to help, in however small a way.
This is a beautifully done drama, wonderfully acted, and it is a pity that it is virtually unknown and unavailable outside of Italy.
I once had the privilege of seeing actor Enrico Maria Salerno as the father in a stage performance of Luigi Pirandello's "Six Characters in Search of An Author" in the Franco Zeffirelli production in Rome in 1992. He and Anna Magnani are impressive here and very beautiful together.
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