Blog Directory CineVerse: Rome is where the heart is...and the heartache

Rome is where the heart is...and the heartache

Friday, April 14, 2017

It's for no small reason that director and film historian Martin Scorsese called Rome Open City “the most precious moment of film history.” He and many experts believe this picture infused cinema with a new kind of realism, immediacy and energy that proved to be highly influential on both sides of the Atlantic. This movie is worth studying and appreciating for multiple reasons, including the following discussed by our CineVerse group last night:

It’s credited as pioneering because it’s one of the first Italian movies to portray the hardship Italians suffered during World War II and the German occupation of their country; consider that pictures made earlier in the war were censored and carefully controlled by Mussolini and made the Allied countries look like enemies.
It’s often praised as the first major work of Italian Cinema to be seen and appreciated by international viewers. How many pre-1945 Italian movies can you even name? This is the film that helped put Italian cinema on the map, that laid the path for masters like Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, and Guiseppe De Santis to tread, and that made later works like Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D, and La Strada to be enjoyed by people around the world. 
It looks and feels like a documentary, even though it’s technically scripted and acted; however, what was shot often was improvisational and invented on-the-spot. Keep in mind that it was originally intended to be a documentary about a priest shot by the Nazis for aiding the resistance as well as a documentary about Roman children who resisted the Nazi occupying force. It reenacts the real tale of a woman gunned down by the Germans before the barracks, too. In this way, Rome Open City plays as an innovative hybrid film imbued with realism and authenticity, even though it’s not a true documentary. 
Critic Kenneth Turan delves into this hybrid film theory further. “What makes "Open City" special is that it doesn't follow its own rules. It is both realistic and melodramatic, passionate and dispassionate, using newsreel-style cinematography but unafraid to indulge in big emotions,” he wrote.
Others credit Rossellini with creating a new kind of emotional cinematic experience that immerses the viewer into a fabricated reality that doesn’t appear fabricated. Essayist Stephanie Cotela Tanner wrote: "Rossellini was looking back at events in which he was not officially politically involved and created the illusion that the events were taking place in real time, thus allowing himself and his spectators to become involved. He used film as a mass medium to disseminate to a wider audience information that previous techniques could communicate only to a happy few. The novelty of Open City lies in its transformation of art into information. Rossellini provides the viewer with a real memory of something the viewer has not actually experienced."
It features some Italian actors but mostly nonprofessionals and everyday citizens. Arguably, the city itself is the primary character. Shooting on location in the streets and in actual homes and buildings, not on a studio lot, gives the film an immediacy and credible energy.
It was created outside the context of any studio involvement by independent filmmakers. It was a film made on the fly, by guerilla-style filmmakers who begged, borrowed and stole to get this picture made, literally; the director depleted his savings, bought black market film stock and borrowed short rolls of leftover film when he ran out of film stock; his life was also threatened.
Consider that, contrary to some rumors, the film was shot after the city’s liberation by the Americans in 1944, and not while the Germans were still there; still, the wounds would have been very fresh, and the rubble, destruction and human stress would have been quite evident. It would have taken guts and real bravery to attempt to make this movie in this context, in this setting, so soon after the Nazi occupation of Rome.
Tanner further suggested: "Open City is a testimony because it records on celluloid how Rome looked after World War II, including sites of memorable events. The most notable instance is the field at Forte Bravetta used as the setting for Don Pietro’s execution. It was on this site that several antifascists including Don Guiseppe Morosini, one of the models for Don Pietro’s character, was shot during the occupation. After the Liberation (10 June 1944), various leading Fascists who collaborated and/or carried out acts of repression or torture were also shot at this site. In this way, an otherwise ordinary-looking strip of land serves as a stimulus to collective memory and has an authenticating function in a scene that is in other respects a dramatized reconstruction."
It features “unorthodox approaches to storytelling”, wrote Criterion Collection essayist Irene Bignardi; think about how the tone shifts from comedic to shocking and tragic rather quickly. It also takes the story to the streets and gives us a candid look at the human condition, depicting real people left vulnerable in their own hometown. 
The lively and courageous children who fight back would have inspired the French New Wave, which later invoked the vibrant spirit of youth culture. French New Wave filmmakers would have also admired the resistance of the Italian people, which draws comparisons to the French Resistance.
Interestingly, the filmmakers aren’t afraid to paint some Italians in a bad light, too; consider that those who resist are betrayed by their own countrymen.

Arguably, there are none; this movie is truly one of a kind and hard to compare to any other cinematic work.
However, it does share many commonalities with other contemporary neorealism films like Bicycle Thieves, Bitter Rice, Shoeshine, Miracle in Milan, and Umberto D.
This film is also part of a trio by Rossellini referred to as his War Trilogy; the two later movies are Paisan and Germany, Year Zero.
It also conjures up similarities to The Battle of Algiers
Stromboli, Journey to Italy, Fear, and Europe ’51, starring his wife Ingrid Bergman
The Flowers of St. Francis
Ways of Love
Escape by Night

  © Blogger template Cumulus by 2008

Back to TOP