Rome, Open City (Roma città aperta)
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Written by Sergio Amidei, Federico Felini, and Roberto Rossellini
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#192 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
IMDb users say 8.1/10; I say 9/10
Don Pietro: I am a Catholic priest. I believe that those who fight for justice and truth walk in the path of God and the paths of God are infinite
This is must-see viewing for its unforgettable images, outstanding acting, and poetic dialogue…not so much for the rather heavy-handed plot.
The story is divided into two parts but the second flows directly out of the first. The Nazi occupation is nearing its end and Rome has been classified an “open”, or undefended, city. This does not mean that the Germans are scaling back their harassment of the citizenry, however. They continue to round up able-bodied men for work in German factories and to ruthlessly pursue rebels.
Pina (Anna Magnani) and Francesco are set to be married the following day by Don Pietro Pelligrini (Aldo Fabrizi), a partisan priest. It is about time since Pina is obviously pregnant with Francesco’s child. She already has one son, Marcello, who loves Francesco as a father. Francesco is involved with a liberation group and is friends with group leader Giorgio Manfredi. Manfredi is on the run and hides out in Pina’s apartment. But the building is raided by Nazis when local boys blow up a gasoline tanker. Manfredi escapes but Francesco is captured leading the fiery Pina to lose control – to no avail as it costs her her life while Francesco is later rescued.
In the second half, Manfredi decides to hide with his ex-girlfriend Marina, a materialistic drug addict whose habit is being fed by an evidently lesbian German spy. Marina overhears her man talking about going into hiding at a monastery with the help of Don Pietro. In no time at all Marina betrays him and Manfredi and the priest are picked up by the Gestapo. Effete Gestapo boss Major Bergman has discovered that Manfredi is actually Luigi Ferraris and high in the resistance organization. Bergman is determined to get information on the officers before morning and subjects him to the most cruel torture, torturing the priest at the same time by forcing him to listen to his screams. Only Francesco and little Marcello are spared to carry on.
The plot is fairly standard for its time, with not only evil but sexually “deviant” Nazis and innocent Italians but is handled with some finesse by the writers. I enjoyed looking for places where Fellini showed his hand. The paralyzed grandfather in the bed is a close cousin to the man that refuses to come down out of the tree in Amarcord! The scene with the priest and the nude statue at the art dealer is also classic. These elements of comedy and some rather poetic exchanges on morality and survival help lift the story into classic territory. But it is the extraordinary images and powerful acting that make the film. The scene with Magnani running after the truck, the entire torture scene, and an execution are etched permanently in my memory.
I had only ever seen this classic before in an el cheapo edition complete with extremely sparse English sub-titles. The restored and newly re-titled Criterion Collection version was an entirely different experience. I learned from the commentary that while the film is often cited as launching the Italian neo-realist movement, it does not meet the classic definition of the genre since it features professional actors (and what actors!) and many of the interiors were filmed on sound stages.
Trailer (Restoration re-release)