Rome, Open City (1945)
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Cast: Anna Magnani, Aldo Fabrizi, Marcello Pagliero
Synopsis: Rome, 1944. Giorgio Manfredi, one of the leaders of the Resistance is tracked down by the Nazis. He goes to his friend Francesco’s, and asks Pina, Francesco’s fiance, for help. Pina must warn a priest, Don Pietro Pellegrini, that Giorgio needs to leave the town as soon as possible.
Rome, Open City, universally acknowledged as an early Neo-Realist classic, is probably as close as you can get to the earliest example of Guerilla Filmmaking. Filmed on the war-devastated streets of Rome in the months immediately following the end of WWII, shot on scraps of film obtained from wherever director Roberto Rossellini could find it, and using a mix of professional and non-professional actors, Rome, Open City stands as an example of film forged from the harsh reality of life.
The style is necessarily straightforward, with few directorial flourishes, but then this is what the story requires. The Nazis are closing in on resistance leader Giorgio Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero) as the film opens. We see him fleeing across the City’s rooftops as soldiers search the apartment he shares with his mother. The crackdown has been orchestrated by the somewhat fey Gestapo office Major Bergmann (Harry Feist), through whose office the screams of those being interrogated next door frequently ring. If Rome Open, City has a weakness it is probably Bergmann, who fits too closely the movie stereotype of a louche, morally reprehensible Gestapo officer.
Giorgio is aided in his escape by a number of locals, chief of whom are Pina (Anna Magnani) and Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), a couple about to be wed by the priest Don Pietro Pelligrini (Aldo Fabrizi), another stalwart of the City’s resistance. The film follows these characters as they ferry Giorgio from one location to another. The city becomes a maze through which they scurry under cover of darkness, living in constant fear of discovery and apprehension. The price they pay is high, and Rossellini doesn’t flinch from showing us their sacrifice.
Rome, Open City is a compelling and uncompromising example of just what can be achieved by filmmakers with a clear vision and a driven agenda to communicate to their audience the reality of a remarkable time. The power of the story and the down-to-earth reality of the characters, helps Rome, Open City overcome the sometimes fatal drawbacks of a poor print (UK DVD) and subtitles that seem to appear and disappear at random. Watch it anyway.
(Reviewed 6th March 2013)