Italy1945 bw 105 min.
Director: Roberto Rossellini
CLV: $49.95 - available
1 disc, catalog # CC1409L

Untitled Document

Roma, citta aperta is widely regarded as the most important film in Italian cinema history. On its release in 1945, it seemed utterly different from anything made before. Its use of real locations (rather than studios) and unglamourous nonprofessional actors (except in the major rolls) gave it a startling, authentic look that was to change forever all subsequent filmmaking practice.

The making of the film was carried out in the worst possible conditions, just after occupying German troops had left Rome. Most producers had left the city; the studios at Cinecitta had been severly damaged by Allied aerial attacks. In a country on the verge of social and economic collapse, there was little money available for something as frivolous and nonessential as film. Yet these very hardships make Open City unique. The fact that Rossellini had to buy his film stockfrom street photographers, splicing together unmatched bits and pieces, is responsible for the film's newsreel feel. Rossellini was forced to film in the streets and in his collaborator's apartments because the large studios were in such bad shape. Ambient sound and the actor's voices were dubbed in after editing.

Despite its fame, Open City is probably Rossellini's least typical work. Though seen as a direct challenge to the conventions of conventional Hollywood cinema, it is in fact one of the director's most conventional efforts in terms of its narrative and dramatic structure. In 1945, the story that Rossellini wanted to tell perhaps seemed so powerful in and of itself that a driving narrative impulse may simply have pushed aside the more experimental narrative technique of his earlier films. Reality itself had had become so dramatic that a strong storyline with vivid characters must have seemed the best way to capture it. Merely showing the reality of wartime Rome in its pain and destruction had an enormous impact on audiences around the world -- even in Italy, which was notoriously hostile to neorealism.

However we might want to chastise Rossellini for his embrace of conventional narrative, it is clear he does it very well indeed. There is no narrative fat, the characters are tightly intertwined for maximum efficiency, and the result is a complex, thickly populated fresco of contemporary Italian life. Exposition is accompliched instantly, in bold, swift strokes. We are plunged into the story at a gallop from the first minute of the film. Comic and tragic moods alternate in an invigorating way: The film's most tragic scene (in which an incomparable Anna Magnani -- in her first major role -- is gunned down by the Germans) follows immediately upon what is perhaps the its most comic (an old man, reluctant to play dead for the benefit of the fascist police, is hit over the head with a frying pan by Aldo Fabrizi).

The most important theme, however, especially in terms of the film's historical dimension, concerns the nature of the partnership formed -- if not historical actuality, at least in Rossellini's mind -- to combat Nazi corruption, that between communists and the Catholic Church. This was no mean trick for the director, considering that one of his previous films had posed them as natural bitter enemies. But he does manage, in a remarkable balancing act, to portray both favorably, primarily because of the handy presence of a common enemy whose dreadfulness everyone can agree upon. Nevertheless, the entire film is presented in Catholic, or Christian, perspective (even the tortured communist Manfredi is symbolically seen in Christ-like terms), and the priest Don Pietro is the moral lens through which we are meant to regard the various forms of iniquity on display. Rossellini acknowledges the plain fact that no matter how one personally felt concerning its politics, the Communist Party was the resistance.

The film ends with an ambiguous image of the Roman skyline, as the boys trudge wearily down the hill, supporting one another, after the execution of Don Pietro. The sequence seems clearly symbolic, but of what? Some have emphasized the prominence of the dome of St. Peter's, insisting that only in the church is there hope for the future of Italy. But the dome is seen firmly in its context of the entire city of Rome. Others have seen the ending as utterly pessimistic, full of death and destruction. Still others have stressed the fact that the boys, symbol's of Italy's future even though crippled and depressed, are at least supporting one another down the hill. However one might want to read these final images of the Eternal City, it is clear that the next fifty yearsof cinema history will be conceived and realized against the eternal backdrop of Roma, citta aperta.

--Peter Brunette

Peter Brunette teaches film at George Mason University, is the author of Roberto Rossellini, and frequently contributes to The New York Times.



Pina ... Anna Magnani

Don Pietro ... Aldo Fabrizi

Manfredi ... Marcello Pagliero

Marina ... Maria Michi

Bergmann ... Harry Feist

Francesco ... Francesco Grandjacquet

Ingrid ... Giovanna Galletti

Marcello ... Vito Annichiarico

Produced and directed by ... Roberto Rossellini

Written by ... Sergio Amidei, Frederico Fellini & Roberto Rossellini

Based on a a story by ... Sergio Amidei & Alberto Consiglio

Photographed by ... Ubaldo Arata

Music by ... Renzo Rossellini



Open City was transferred from a 35mm Nitrate Composite Print.

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