Rome Open City / Roma città aperta (dir: Roberto Rossellini)

Posted: March 10, 2014 in Drama, Historical, Italian, Older releases
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Rome_Open_City

In August 1943 Rome became an “open city”, abandoning all defensive efforts in the expectation that it would no longer be bombed. The following year, Rossellini began shooting a documentary about a priest who was involved with the Italian resistance. Partway through, he decided to combine this with another story about the resistance activities of children in Rome. Thus was born his neorealist classic Rome Open City.

The story revolves around the Nazis’ attempt to capture the leader of the resistance, Georgi Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero), who has been hiding out in a multi-occupant tenement block. One of the other occupants is Pina (Anna Magnani), pregnant by another resistance fighter, Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), who she is due to marry the next day. Father Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi), who is to perform the ceremony, gets called upon to deliver a package of money for the resistance. Shortly afterwards the streets are rocked by an explosion, which turns out to have caused by the local children bombing a Nazi target. The following day, the day of the wedding, the Nazis come for all the men.

In the tradition of Italian neorealisim, Rossellini adopts documentary-style shooting in the exterior shots. The one outstanding exception to this occurs following the children’s evening bombing raid, when we see them silhouetted against the light in the background as they come running over the brow of a hill, heading towards the viewer. It is a truly glorious moment. And of course the backdrop for all the outdoor scenes is not a studio set, but the actual city of Rome as it was in 1944. Many of the performers were not professional actors, but everyone is suited to their role, and we feel that we could be eavesdropping on genuine conversations.

As is so often the case with serious subjects, the impact of the most tragic moments is rendered all the more powerful by the inclusion of some quite comic scenes. However, when we get to the torture scenes, despite the fact we see almost nothing of what is actually happening these really make the viewer squirm. The whole process of torture is overseen by the Nazi Major Bergmann (Harry Feist), whose camp portrayal is hard to imagine being allowed in a serious modern film but nonetheless serves here to make his character even more chilling.

Rating: 9/10

Showing at the British Film Institute until 5th April 2014.

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