• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:December 8, 2020

Open City: Rome Under the Boot

The most famous of the Italian neorealist films began in ruins. Right after the end of World War II, Italy was defeated and in bad shape. There was not much of a film industry and certainly no money to fund new projects. An elderly, wealthy lady in Rome was interested in helping two documentaries get made, one about children who had helped fight the Germans, and another about Don Pieto Morosini, a Catholic priest who was murdered by the Nazis for helping the partisans.

The lady got in touch with Roberto Rossellini who started working with screenwriters Federico Fellini and Sergio Amidei. They were the ones who suggested to Rossellini that he should fuse the projects into one feature film. The results became an international sensation.

A robust resistance movement
In 1944, Rome is occupied by the Germans; Mussolini is off ”governing” the Italian Social Republic and the Allies are making their way through southern Italy, trying to reach Rome. There is a robust resistance movement fighting the Nazis. One of its leaders is the Communist Giorgio Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero). When we first meet him, he’s on the run, trying to reach a friend, Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet). That’s when he meets Pina (Anna Magnani), Francesco’s pregnant fiancée, who helps him get in touch with Don Pietro Pellegrini (Aldo Fabrizi), a Catholic priest. All of them are also part of the resistance and do their best to transfer messages and money to fighters outside Rome. Pina’s son Marcello, an altar boy, has a special role in this struggle: planting bombs together with his friends.

Shot in the streets
Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) was the first film in the neorealist tradition, but Open City became a greater hit. Its makers wanted more realism in Italian cinema, borrowing inspiration from Jean Renoir. Movies should be shot in the streets and natural locations, not in studios; at this point in the history of Italian cinema, films depicted a poor working class, a collective fighting for better conditions. One of this picture’s writers, Fellini, had yet to become a director of his own, and he would focus more on the individuals of this class, a transition on the road to greater prosperity for Italians in general.

Open City couldn’t be shot in Cinecittà for practical reasons, but that only made the movie look more authentic, a document traveling back in time just a few months, depicting life in Rome during the occupation. An American Signal Corps soldier, Rod E. Geiger, had access to film stock, helping get the film completed, and Rossellini found amateur actors to round out the cast. The real pros were Magnani and Fabrizi. The former makes a huge impression, especially in the shocking scene where she meets her destiny. Fabrizi is excellent as the priest, a devoted servant to Christ who refuses to help the Nazis even in the face of torture.

The film follows several characters who are part of the resistance, taking its time before we are emotionally invested. As Giorgio is caught by the Germans, the movie becomes particularly intense and gruesome in the last half-hour. In the end, Don Pietro suffers all the torment of Christ as the German commander pressures him, ultimately offering him only something akin to Golgotha.

In the film’s final sequence we see Don Pietro’s altar boys heading back to the city; St. Peter’s Basilica is visible in the background. In a way, it sums up everything about this film: the religious symbolism, the neorealist tradition of filming in natural locations, and children facing a brighter future than the current world they are part of.

Open City 1945-Italy. 105 min. B/W. Produced by Giuseppe Amato, Ferruccio De Martino, Rod E. Geiger, Roberto Rossellini. Directed by Roberto Rossellini. Screenplay: Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini. Cast: Aldo Fabrizi (Don Pietro Pellegrini), Anna Magnani (Pina), Marcello Pagliero (Giorgio Manfredi), Maria Michi, Vito Annicchiarico, Nando Bruno.

Trivia: Original title: Roma cittĂ  aperta. Alternative title: Rome, Open City.

Cannes: Grand Prize. 

Last word: “If, one day in 1944, Roberto Rossellini hadn’t invited me to collaborate on the screenplay of ‘Rome, Open City’, I would never even have considered the cinema as a profession. Rossellini helped me go from a foggy, apathetic period in my life to the stage of cinema.” (Fellini, Diary of a Screenwriter)



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