Two shoeshine boys in postwar Rome, Italy, save up to buy a horse, but their involvement as dupes in a burglary lands them in juvenile prison where the experience take a devastating toll on their friendship.
Vittorio De Sica
The location: Nazi occupied Rome. As Rome is classified an open city, most Romans can wander the streets without fear of the city being bombed or them being killed in the process. But life for Romans is still difficult with the Nazi occupation as there is a curfew, basic foods are rationed, and the Nazis are still searching for those working for the resistance and will go to any length to quash those in the resistance and anyone providing them with assistance. War worn widowed mother Pina is about to get married to her next door neighbor Francesco. Despite their situation - Pina being pregnant, and Francesco being an atheist - Pina and Francesco will be wed by Catholic priest Don Pietro Pelligrini. The day before the wedding, Francesco's friend, Giorgio Manfredi, who Pina has never met, comes looking for Francesco as he, working for the resistance, needs a place to hide out. For his latest mission, Giorgio also requests the assistance of Don Pietro, who is more than willing as he sees...Written by
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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