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Open City (1945) is considered by many the first, and an essential, film in the post-WWII genre known as Italian neorealism. It brought together some of the most important talents in Italian film culture including future film director Federico Fellini, who contributed to the screenplay; director Roberto Rossellini; and Anna Magnani, an actress who rose to international prominence playing theflawed but soulful Pina, who embarks on a new life with herfiance beneath the looming specter of Nazi forces occupying Rome.
Shot in the actual apartments and streets of a recently liberated Rome,Open City, like other neorealist films, was distinguished by analmost documentarian quality, an immediacy and sense of truth that made thefilm a box-office success in Italy, Europe and the United States.Rossellini's innovative film style was so new and naturalistic thatsome believed the events were filmed as they actually happened.
Open City centers on the efforts of the Nazi occupiers to capture apartisan leader, Giorgio Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero), who is assisted by anoble local priest, Don Pietro Pellegrini (Aldo Fabrizi). The efforts of theResistance are set against the ordinary, daily struggles of the Italianpeople who storm a bakery to give bread to their starving children, orstruggle with the moral uncertainties of wartime. Pina is one of thosepeople, engaged to be married to the kind Francesco (FrancescoGrandjacquet), a friend of Resistance fighter Manfredi. Pina is alreadypregnant with Francesco's child, and thus embodies some of the moralambiguities of wartime as characters struggle to live a decent life despiteenormous incentives to do otherwise. One of the characters who succumbs tothe temptations offered during wartime is Manfredi's mistress Marina (MariaMichi), a beautiful but essentially shallow girl who ends up being led byNazi agent Ingrid (Giovanna Galletti) to betray Manfredi.
Though noted for its exceptionally strong performances, especially byMagnani and Fabrizi, Open City has also been criticized for itsblend of tragedy and comedy as well as for its melodramatic elements whichsome have considered out of character with the true essence of neorealismas later practiced by Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica. Rossellini'suse of emotionally manipulative dramatic effects was most obvious in hisopposition of noble, morally upright Italians against often cartoonish Nazivillains, including the absurdly effete Major Bergmann (Harry Feist), whodirects the torture of Resistance leaders while casually smoking acigarette, and an outrageous, glamorous lesbian who uses drugs and furcoats to compel Marina to betray Manfredi.
Though the film received positive notice in a 1946 Variety review,the article did speculate, in an outlandish aside, about some of thepotentially objectionable material for American audiences, including apremaritally pregnant Pina, references to cocaine, and the aforementioned"lesbo German spy." Though nothing is explicitly shown, Rossellini also soeffectively evokes the horrors of Manfredi's torture by the Nazis, that thescene becomes one of the most sickening, disturbing moments in film history.
Neorealist films like Open City were important not only as a meansof commemorating Italian struggle and sacrifice during the war -- theyserved an important function in resuscitating an Italian film industrysuddenly threatened with the new dominion of Hollywood and other nationalcinemas in the postwar era.
It was not only Rossellini's real locations and the grainy texture of his film that imparted realism to the project. Many of the events depicted inthe film, from priest Don Pietro's execution by firing squad topregnant Pina being gunned down by a Nazi soldier, were based on actual eventsvarious collaborators on the project witnessed or heard about during wartime. The terror of wartime was still so fresh on Italian minds, it invested their work on Open City with a raw, often painfulintensity, as in the scene where Pina is murdered in front of her fianceand small son. As Magnani recalled, extras on the scene "actually turnedwhite telling each other how much they resented the Nazis! This made mefeel the anxiety I showed on the screen."
Producer/Director: Roberto Rossellini
Screenplay: Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini and Roberto Rossellini (based on a story by Amidei and Alberto Consiglio)
Cinematography: Ubaldo Arata
Production Design: Rosario Megna
Music: Renzo Rossellini
Principal Cast: Anna Magnani (Pina), Aldo Fabrizi (Don Pietro Pellegrini), Marcello Pagliero (Giorgio Manfredi), Maria Michi (Marina), Harry Feist (Maj. Bergmann), Francesco Grandjacquet (Francesco), Giovanna Galletti (Ingrid).
by Felicia Feaster