Rome, Open City/Rome, Città Aperta
Film Title: Rome: Open City
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Starring: Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani, Marcello Pagliero
Running Time: 100 min
As the SS close in, engineer and communist Giorgio Manfredi enlists the help of Don Pietro Pellegrini, a Catholic priest who is also helping the Resistance, to escape from occupied Rome. Francesco is a communist colleague also working to coordinate anti-Nazi activities sometime between the dismissal of Mussolini and the liberation of Italy.
Francesco’s pregnant fiancée (Anna Magnani) helps to incite riots against the shops that control food rations. Her young son is part of a gang of street kids who go on late-night bombing runs against the Nazis. Her sister, a friend of Giorgo’s former girlfriend, has sold her body and information in return for drugs and furs. The Nazis, as exemplified by the lux-loving lesbian succubus Ingrid, are a corrupting presence as well as a chilly bureaucratic one. Bergmann, a Gestapo wonk, gives murderous orders from behind his desk and maps.
There’s an urgency about Roberto Rossellini’s seminal 1945 war drama that has seldom been equalled in cinema. Shot on whatever scraps of celluloid the director could find in the aftermath of German occupation, and characterised by handheld camera and a mostly non-professional cast, the film’s rough aesthetic would usher in an age of neorealism in Italian cinema. The electricity for at least one sequence came courtesy of a tapped supply to a GI dancehall.
A deeply affecting portrait of a pocket of Nazi resistance, the film’s make-do production serves to amplify the plight of the make-do community it depicts. The narrative, in keeping with the chaos Rossellini seeks to capture, sprawls and contracts back into small refuges. This is war: one major character is dispatched with all the shocking prematurity of Janet Leigh’s untimely demise in Psycho .
Rome, Open City ’s seminal, accidental style is often cited by those who hold that necessity is the mother of invention. But beneath the striking verite, lurks a nuanced, powerful war drama.