sábado, 5 de mayo de 2012

Rome Open City

Rome Open City [Roma città aperta] (The Criterion Collection DVD, 2009)
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Italy, 1945
In Italian and German with English subtitles

As excited as I once was to watch Italian neorealism standard-bearers Rome Open City (1945), Paisan (1946) and Germany Year Zero (1948) in quick succession, I should note that the first and most famous title in Criterion's nifty Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy box set is so dated and/or otherwise flawed as a narrative that it took me three separate attempts to push past the 45-minute mark in the film.  As luck would have it, at least the third time was the charm.  Shot on location in the then just recently-liberated Rome while the waning moments of WWII still raged on elsewhere in the devastated country, Rome Open City's fictionalized storyline regarding Italian resistance to the nine months of German occupation of the Eternal City ultimately won me over with its unequivocally visceral you-are-there look and passion.  Its strengths are numerous: the documentary-like "realism" conveyed by the bombed-out cityscapes and scenes of the poor mobbing bakeries for bread; charismatic performances by Aldo Fabrizi and Marcello Pagliero as the neighborhood priest and fugitive Communist military leader whose paths cross and fates meet as a result of their resistance activities against the Nazis and the Italian fascists; a bold thematic confrontation with the barbarity of torture and the death of innocents that must have traumatized contemporary filmgoers still raw from the ravages of the war.  Its weaknesses, unfortunately, are also fairly numerous: a melodramatic score that undermines the relative simplicity of other aspects of the filmmaking; the miscasting of Anna Magnani as a meek, clingy bride-to-be (anyone who's seen the actress in Mamma Roma will know that she has way too strong a personality for that meek act to be pulled off!); the weird bourgeois morality message hinted at by the fact that two of the film's most reprehensible characters, a mincing Gestapo chief and his drug-dealing lesbian informant, are based on lurid sexual orientation stereotypes.  Despite its flaws, what helped make Rome Open City a winner for me for its entertainment value and not just for its history lesson was its unmistakable raw power.  The Gestapo chief to Don Pietro, referring to the imminent torture of the priest's "subversive" and "atheist" associate: "You Italians, no matter your party, have a weakness for rhetoric.  But I'm sure we'll come to an agreement before dawn."  The priest: "He won't talk."  Why?  "I'll pray for him."  Although there's no easy way to resolve such a scene given man's known capacity for evil, the look in Don Pietro's eyes--valiant face to face with the enemy but apparently contrite that prayer is all he has to offer to his acquaintance--suggests that Rossellini probably wasn't interested in looking for one.  (The Criterion Collection)

An iconic scene from Rome Open City

Rome Open City was (re)viewed with my Foreign Film Festival and Caroline's World Cinema Series in mind.  For a write-up on another Italian neorealist classic, please see Séamus' take on Vittorio De Sica's 1948 Bicycle Thieves [Ladri de biciclettehere.

14 comentarios:

  1. I'm going to disagree with you about Anna Magnani because hers is the one moment that stands out in my memory from watching this movie several years ago. The shot of her chasing the truck as is takes her husband away is one I'll not forget. What makes that moment is her willingness as an actress to bare all emotion, expose everything in a raw, down in the dirt sense.

    You can also argue that that is out of character and my one response to you will be that the first two movies of this series are really collections of scenes rather than fully developed movies. In that scene Anna Magnani shines.

    However, all three deserve a wider audience today.

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    1. I'm glad you called me out on the Anna Magnani comment, James, because I prob. should have added a line about the powerful scene you mention. I agree that the actress is both excellent and memorable in that one particular scene, but I still feel she's snicker-worthy in the earlier quiet moments with her fiancé and the priest--not at all convincing to me as that character. Interesting to hear about your "collections of scenes" comment--I thought this one worked more or less as a traditional film, but I've heard that Paisan (which I haven't seen yet) might be more like what you're describing in form. Am looking forward to comparing them all at some point (and watching all the special features), so thanks for giving me something else to think about ahead.

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  2. While not one of my favourite war movies I still liked it a lot. I watched a British DVD and you couldn't turn off the subtitles that's why I noticed that half of the dialogue was missing in the subtitles. But I guess that wasn't a problem? The exact same thing was the case in the Gabin movie Les illusions perdues.
    I didn't even think it was very melodramatic and I liked Anna Magnani in this. What made me forgive the melodrama or not even notice it, its' that it's fairly raw a times, not polished like most contemporary cinema.

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    1. Another Magnani supporter, eh? I actually like her OK, just not in this role. I thought that the film felt like a cross between a raw documentary-like story and a traditional melodrama pitting the resistance leaders against the fascists, but it wasn't as raw/unpolished throughout from a narrative perspective as I would have liked although the cinematography helped make up for that(i.e. I thought it was a little hokey at times but still powerful for sure). As far as the translation goes,
      I almost always rely on the subtitles since my Italian isn't strong at all. I did notice one conversation that got "condensed" unnecessarily, which worries me, but the dialogue wasn't much of a problem otherwise. Not sure what I might have missed, though. Cheers!

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  3. La Grande Illusion, of course, not Les illusions perdues... bah

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  4. This is wonderful to read about - these films, Open City especially, are gaps for me. That point about the match between style and content are exactly what the neo-realists immediately began working on. Heck, they solved it, as we can see in The Bicycle Thief. The elements that bother you here are exactly the ones that are jettisoned: professional actors, conventional scripts.

    I actually might write about movies for tomorrow. Have I gone mad?

    PS Watch the "restored" Grand Illusion, which subtitles more - although not all - of the dialogue than older versions.

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    1. Thanks, Tom--I'm glad that these posts are occasionally being read by people who haven't seen the films in question yet! I like what you say about the problem-solving in Bicycle Thieves, which is part of what makes that a much more accomplished/satisfactory film for me. I haven't seen that one in a while because I lent it out and never got it back, but I remember liking De Sica's Umberto D even more. Great stuff. Rome Open City was nice to see all the way through at last, though, esp. since I can now watch Paisan and GYZ in sequence. Re: the PS, thanks for the tip on which Grand Illusion to watch--will try and get to that by the end of the year given all the props it's received here.

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  5. Hey, when did they change the title of The Bicycle Thief on me? Just a few years ago, I guess.

    Umberto D is a killer.

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    1. I wasn't ever aware that the title was pluralized until Criterion rereleased the film on DVD about 5 yeras ago, but the failure to pluralize the title from the beginning is one of those stupid translation decisions that just bugs me to no pedantic end. Umberto D is indeed killer, of course.

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  6. I'd say that this was a reminder to add Rossellini to my list, had I not come across a recommended foreign films list with this title and Paisan a few days ago. That said, I'm really intrigued by this title, if for no other reason than I'm curious to see Rome circa 1945. It kind of boggles my mind thinking about all these bombed out European cities and how they had to/choose to rebuild.

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    1. Not having watched any of the special features from the War Trilogy yet, Amanda, I'd really like to find out why Rossellini was in such a hurry to film Rome Open City while the war was still going on elsewhere in Italy. I have my theories, I guess, but I'm not sure that that's the first thing that would have been on my mind given all the rebuilding that needed to be done that you mention (emotionally and physically). It's an important document, though, definitely.

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  7. Steerforth at The Age of Uncertainty just put up a piece about 's English cousin. Very much worth seeing the minute-long clip about 2/3 down the page.

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    1. Thanks, great footage. The kid doing the sound effects is more than a little freaky, though. Had method acting been invented then?!?

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