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Rome, Open City (1945)


#192. Rome, Open City [Roma, Città Aperta] (1945)

Genre: War Drama (Italy)

Starring: Anna Magnani (The Golden Coach • The Fugitive Kind),  Aldo Fabrizi (The Flowers of St. Francis)

Directed By: Roberto Rossellini (PaisanGermany Year Zero)

Overview: A group of resistance fighters in 1944 Rome do their best to sabotage the state all while avoiding getting caught.

Sometimes the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book invites us to watch something that is iconic rather than ‘valuable’. John Waters’s Pink Flamingos is in the book because it is trash meant to disgust. James Bond is relevant to film society, so it’s good to know that at least one of these mostly campy, usually mediocre-yet-fun films make it to the list. I’d put these in the pile of ‘culturally noteworthy, meant to be fun’ movies, not really necessary for an education of Capital ‘C’ Cinema. Then there’s films like Les 400 coup (1959), a title that doubtless belongs to the study of Cinema history for being iconic to the incredibly influential French New Wave. There’s Citizen Kane, a film that for decades was officially considered ‘the best movie ever made’. And then there’s Roberto Rossellini’s Roma città aperta, a paramount example of neorealism: filmmaking marked with a documentary style, use of non-actors and real locations - as with French New Wave cinema - and to quote The Wikipedia, “a general atmosphere of authenticity” and “a sense of historical actuality and immediacy”.

Oh vile temptation!
Oh vile temptation!

Open City is the story of resistance fighters in a 1944 Rome occupied by Nazis. Their Communist leader, Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero) is hiding in the apartment of Francesco (Francesco Grandjaquet) and his wife Pina (Anna Magnani). There’s also Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi), a priest who joins up with the cause. Their story of resistance is told through their manoeuverings and interpersonal relationships as they do their best to avoid the ranks of Nazis who are coming closer every day to closing in on them.

Much like my opinion of Open City, the film is split into two parts. The first half focusses mostly on the people and their secret manipulations, whereas the second half deals less with the interpersonal and a little more on the Nazi side of things. To rephrase: the first half deals more with the characters, and the second half deals more on action. To rephrase yet again: the first half is melodrama and the second half is actually entertaining. I didn’t find poetry in the dialogue, nor did I find most of the cinematography inspired. Sadly, this is the neorealist point of Open City, and I had a hard time enjoying it. Unfortunately I was asking myself, “why is this important?” rather than knowing it. I found most of the story, the drama and the Nazis all so common and unimaginative. In 1945, surely this was something fresh and new, but today it’s a stepping stone in film history that needed to be learned, but it wasn’t a fun lesson.

Wooden Nazis...
Wooden Nazis...

The highlights of Open City included the unfortunately under-focussed character of Don Pietro, and the radiant performances of the children. Somehow, the acting of the children was brilliant, with the lines delivered with a maturity and wisdom well beyond their years. I wish there had been more focus on their dichotomous roles, being both innocent and profound at the same time.

I found plenty more to enjoy in the second half of Roma città aperta. The pace, the plot and the focus changes. The melodrama fades. It sweetly takes its time in building and reaching a wonderful climax, and Open City leaves off with an enjoyable finish that almost made up for all the waiting.

#192. Rome, Open City [Roma, Città Aperta] (1945)
More of THAT guy I say!

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 7 Script: 6 Plot: 6 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 66% (Open But Not Busy)

I hope Roberto Rossellini’s other 1001 book picks Paisan and Red Desert fare better than Open City. When Open City ended, I didn’t feel satisfied with my film of the evening. I asked my film companion if he had time to squeeze in something promising to be more fun. Lucky for me, he agreed, and we watched Pink Flamingos.

Also, for those of you who didn’t know the connection, Roberto is indeed Isabella Rossellini’s father. Her mother is Ingrid Bergman. Talk about fated for the screen.

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