About "Rome, Open City" which is on Screen of Art and Experience
A Film About Fear
Art and Experience: Rome, Open City (Italian: Roma città aperta) is a 1945 Italian neorealist drama film directed by Roberto Rossellini. In its English subtitled release it was named Open City. The picture features Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani and Marcello Pagliero, and is set in Rome during the Nazi occupation in 1944. The title refers to Rome being declared an open city after 14 August 1943. The film won several awards at various film festivals, including the most prestigious Cannes’ Grand Prize, and was also nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar at the 19th Academy Awards.
By the end of World War II, Rossellini had abandoned the film Desiderio because conditions made it impossible to complete (it was later finished by Marcello Pagliero in 1946 and disowned by Rossellini). By 1944 there was virtually no film industry in Italy and no money to fund films. Rossellini had met and befriended a wealthy elderly lady in Rome who wanted to finance a documentary on Don Pieto Morosini, a Catholic priest who had been shot by the Germans for helping the partisan movement in Italy. Rossellini wanted actor Aldo Fabrizi to play the priest in reenactments and contacted his friend Federico Fellini to help get in touch with Fabrizi.
By then the lady had agreed to finance an additional documentary about Roman children who had fought against the German occupiers. Fellini and screenwriter Sergio Amidei suggested to Rossellini that, instead of two short documentaries, he should make one feature film that combined the two ideas, and in August 1944, just two months after the Allies had forced the Nazis to evacuate Rome, Rossellini, Fellini, and Amidei began working on the script for the film.
The devastation that was the result of the war surrounded them as they wrote the script. They titled it Roma, città aperta and declared publicly that it would be a history of the Roman people under Nazi occupation. Shooting for the film began in January 1945. The funding from the elderly Roman lady was never enough and the film was crudely shot due to circumstances, and not for stylistic reasons. The facilities at Cinecittà Studios were also unusable at that time due to unreliable electricity supply and poor quality film stock.
New Yorker Rod E. Geiger, a soldier in the Signal Corps, who eventually became instrumental in the movie’s global success, met Rosselini at a point when they were out of film. Geiger had access to the film units at the Signal Corps that regularly threw away short-ends and complete rolls of film that might be fogged, scratched, or otherwise deemed unfit for use, and was able to obtain and deliver enough discarded stock to complete the picture.
In order to authentically portray the hardships and poverty of Roman people under the occupation, Rossellini hired mostly non-professional actors for the film, with some exceptions of established stars including Fabrizi and Anna Magnani. On the making of the film, Rossellini stated that the “situation of the moment guided by my own and the actors’ moods and perspectives” dictated what they shot, and he relied more on improvisation than on a script. He also stated that the film was “a film about fear, the fear felt by all of us but by me in particular. I too had to go into hiding. I too was on the run. I had friends who were captured and killed.” Rossellini relied on traditional devices of melodrama, such as identification of the film’s central characters and a clear distinction between good and evil characters. Four interior sets were constructed for the most important locations of the film.
It was believed that the actual film stock was put together out of many different disparate bits, giving the film its documentary or newsreel style. But, when the Cineteca Nazionale restored the print in 1995, “the original negative consisted of just three different types of film: Ferrania C6 for all the outdoor scenes and the more sensitive Agfa Super Pan and Agfa Ultra Rapid for the interiors.” The previously unexplained changes in image brightness and consistency are now blamed on poor processing (variable development times, insufficient agitation in the developing bath and insufficient fixing).
It was one of the first Italian films of the war to depict the struggle against the Germans, unlike the films made in the early years of the war(when Italy was Germany’s ally under Mussolini) that depicted the British, Americans, Greeks, Russians and other allied countries, as well as Ethiopians, communists, and partisans as the antagonists. After the Allied Invasion of Italy in 1943, Italian morale crumbled and they agreed to a separate peace with the allies, causing their former German allies to occupy large parts of Italy, intern Italian soldiers, deport Italian Jews to concentration camps, and treated many of its citizens with disdain for what they saw as a cowardly betrayal by one of their major allies.
Rome, Open City received a mediocre reception from Italian audiences when it was first released, when Italian people were said to want escapism after the war. However, it became more popular as the film’s reputation grew in other countries. The film brought international attention to Italian cinema and is considered a quintessential example of neorealism in film, so much so that together with Paisà and Germania anno zero it is called Rossellini’s “Neorealist Trilogy.” Robert Burgoyne called it “the perfect exemplar of this mode of cinematic creation [neorealism] whose established critical definition was given by André Bazin.” Rossellini himself traced what was called neorealism back to one of his earlier films The White Ship, which he claimed had the same style. Some Italian critics also maintained that neorealism was simply a continuation of earlier Italian films from the 1930s, such as those directed by filmmakers Francesco De Robertis and Alessandro Blasetti. More recent scholarship points out that this film is actually less neo-realist and rather melodramatic. Critics debate whether the pending marriage of the Catholic Pina and the communist Francesco really “acknowledges the working partnership of communists and Catholics in the actual historical resistance.”
Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, gave the film a highly positive review, and wrote, “Yet the total effect of the picture is a sense of real experience, achieved as much by the performance as by the writing and direction. The outstanding performance is that of Aldo Fabrizi as the priest, who embraces with dignity and humanity a most demanding part. Marcello Pagliero is excellent too, as the resistance leader, and Anna Magnani brings humility and sincerity to the role of the woman who is killed. The remaining cast is unqualifiedly fine, with the exception of Harry Feist in the role of the German commander. His elegant arrogance is a bit too vicious—but that may be easily understood.” Film critic William Wolf especially praised the scene where Pina is shot, stating that “few scenes in cinema have the force of that in which Magnani, arms outstretched, races towards the camera to her death.”
Pope Francis has said that the film is among his favorites.