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Open City (1945) - Roberto Rossellini

Related: Roberto Rossellini - film - 1945 - Italian cinema - neorealism

Open City (1945) - Roberto Rossellini [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


  • The Allies had barely driven the Nazis out of Rome when Roberto Rosselini went to work on Open City, considered by most to be his greatest work. Shot on bits and short ends of scavenged film, this film helped define Italian neorealism. Audiences were convinced that the actors were all amateurs (they weren't) and the whole film was improvised (it wasn't; the three screenwriters included Federico Fellini). With its semidocumentary camera style and use of actual locations, the film does feel very real. Of course, so does the opening half-hour of Saving Private Ryan, and like that film Open City is at its heart a classic war yarn any Hollywood studio would feel at home with. The story involves members of the Italian underground trying to smuggle badly needed cash out of Nazi-occupied Rome to partisan fighters in the mountains, while the Nazis are hunting down one of the underground, a notorious freedom fighter and seditionist. Anna Magnani (an actor well established in her own country who became an international star with this film) is often singled out for her portrayal as the pregnant, unwed woman who gets caught up in the action on her wedding day, but the entire cast is topnotch. The sparse subtitles are both a blessing and a curse--there is less to read, which allows the viewer to concentrate on the visuals, but there are times when non-Italian-speakers will feel like they're missing out on some juicy dialogue. --Geof Miller, Amazon.com

  • This shattering portrait of Rome under the Nazi occupation officially ushered in the wave of neo-realist films after World War II. The images have indelibly etched themselves into our minds: the stunning Gestapo round-up sequence, the death of Pina before the eyes of her cassocked altar-boy little son, the torture of the members of the resistance, the courage of the children, the execution of the priest, the earthy beauty of Anna Magnani's face. They all have an immediacy and power that make this one of the most stupendous filmic achievements of all time. If world cinema lacked ROMA, CITTA' APERTA it would be unimaginably poorer. I can think of no better praise. --Gerald A. DeLuca, 2002 via imdb.com

  • Rossellini's ROMA, CITTA APERTA (Rome, Open City) was the first significant film in the neo-realist style. Thus, aside from its own many qualities, it is one of the most important films in the history ot the cinema in terms of its wide influence on other film-makers.

    In 1944, a wealthy Roman lady commissioned Rossellini to make a brief documentary about a priest who had been killed by the Germans. She then suggested a second short on the Resistance activities of Roman children. The director decided to combine both themes into a single, feature-Iength fiction film based on the real events and the experiences that the Romans lived through between 1943 and 1944; the action of the film, however, was to be confined to a three-day period. Rossellini and the writer Alberto Consiglio (who had collaborated with him on L'Uomo della Croce, 1943, The Man of the Cross) wrote the first draft of the script; this was then substantially added to by the writer Sergio Amidei, with further additions by the then cartoonist (and future director) Federico Fellini.

    Money was a constant problem as Rossellini's sponsors ran out of funds. He managed to raise small amounts which enabled him to continue shooting for a time, but eventually he was reduced to selling his furniture and his clothes. Film stock was very hard to come by - even when he had money to pay for it - so Rossellini was forced to use pieces of 35mm newsreel stock of varying lengths and quality. Due to a lack of equipment, and for economic reasons, the film was shot mute with the actors dubbing their dialogue later. Most of the footage remained undeveloped until shooting was completed because Rossellini could not afford laboratory costs. Nonetheless, such technical limitations worked to the final advantage of the film. ROME, OPEN CITY has the 'real' appearance of a newsreel, which led to the oft-repeated tale (unfounded in fact) that the film was shot with concealed cameras before the Germans had left Rome.

    Except for three small studio reconstructions, the entire picture was filmed where the events on which it was based took place; the city thus played a major part in the action. While the cast was a mixture of experienced actors (such as Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi) and non-professionals, there is a raw, natural quality to the performances which belies acting. This is aided by the equally 'raw' images produced by the cinematographer Ubaldo Arata, who worked with available lighting. The fragmented construction of the narrative, with many scenes seemingly unfinished, nourishes an excitement that might well have been dissipated by a more polished script.

    ROME, OPEN CITY is a direct portraIt of the time in which it was made; life as it was then lived is reflected on the screen with great authenticity. As important as the historical moment in the film are the characters, who seem to have lives that extend beyond the brief periods that the film captures. It is this quality above all which continues to give the film its power to move modern audiences.

    According to Rossellini, when the film was eventually completed, everyone he showed it to hated it. 'For want of anything better' the Italians entered it at the Cannes Film Festival, where the director claims it was ignored by everyone. However, it was bought for international distribution 'for a crust of bread', and opened in Paris to rave reviews and booming business. This success was soon surpassed in the USA. 'I suddenly went from artistic cretin to international genius in a matter of weeks', Rossellini commented wryly some years later. The film then did well in Italy on the basis of its foreign reputation, but the pattern had been set, both for neo-reallsm and Rossellini. With each new film be would be denounced as a 'cretin' in his own country; neo-realist films would remain most popular outside Italy, finding special favour in France and Britain.

    The elements that made ROME, OPEN CITY into a bombshell which blasted apart the cinematic conventions of 1945 were those that were to make up the theory, and often the often the practice, of the many neo-realist films that followed it.
    -David Overbey, The Movie, No 23. --http://filmsociety.wellington.net.nz/db/screeningdetail.php?id=188&sr=1 [Aug 2004]


    That sadomasochism and homoeroticism often occur together with Nazism in the Holocaust film is a fact that has long been recognized and is frequently observed.  Ilan Avisar, in Screening the Holocaust, traces what he calls the connection of Nazism and “sexual deviance” to Rossellini’s Open City. [Ilan Avisar, Screening the Holocaust: Cinema’s Images of the Unimaginable (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. 134-48]  Gerd Gemünden suggests that in 1942, “the association of male homosexuality with sadism and perversion [as in the effeminate portrayal of Heydrich in Hangmen Also Die] … anticipates postwar films such as The Damned (Visconti 1969) and Night Porter (Cavani 1974).”[2]  However, Richard Plant in The Pink Triangle indicates that the Soviet film, The Fighters (Wangenheim 1936), depicted Nazis as effeminate perverts.[3]  The goal of this article is to generate some insights that could be applied to sexuality in the Holocaust narrative film in general, and in specific, to an analysis of the transformation of Stephen King’s novella, Apt Pupil, into Brian Singer’s film version (Phoenix/TriStar Pictures, 1998).  As we aim to show, the construction of the Nazi-as-monstrous in the novella takes place against the backdrop of misogyny; in the film, the emphasis shifts to ambivalent fluctuations across homoerotic and homophobic registers.  Ultimately, we examine Apt Pupil because it presents a compelling test case for a theoretical analysis of the frisson that lures us into watching and reading Nazi iconography, and torture, within the context of Holocaust narratives, as sexual.

    -- Sadomasochism, Sexual Torture, and the Holocaust Film: From Misogyny to Homoeroticism and Homophobia in Apt Pupil , Caroline Joan (Kay) S. Picart and Jason Grant McKahan, accessed Feb 2004

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