Cast & Crew
Robert Von Loon
Attraverso sei episodi distinti ed indipendenti uno dall'altro, il film rievoca l'avanzata delle truppe alleate in Italia. Il primo parla di un episodio dello sbarco in Sicilia : una ragazza siciliana fraternizza con un soldato americana. Entrambi sono uccisi dai tedeschi, ma gli americani la crederanno una traditrice. Poi ci troviamo a Napoli, protagonisti un soldato nero ed uno scugnizzo napoletano, che gli ruba le scarpe. Il terzo episodio si svolge a Roma, dove una ragazza, costretta dalla fame a prostituirsi, ritrova il soldato americano che la aveva messa incinta, ma lui non vorr` incontrarla. A Firenze, una infermiera inglese vaga per la citt` martoriata alla ricerca di un partigiano che ama. Il quinto si svolge in un piccolo convento, dove tre monaci di differenti professioni sono ospitati dai monaci locali. L'ultimo esalta la coraggiosa opera dei partigiani italiani, spesso vittime dei nazisti, nelle paludi della Valle Padana.
Robert Von Loon
Herman G. Weinberg
Best Writing, Screenplay
At first, he wasn't even considering directing the film. The project started out as Seven from the U.S., a tribute to the U.S. Army's role in liberating Italy. The package had been put together by a team of American producers and writers that included Rod E. Geiger, who would stay with the film through its release, and Klaus Mann, son of acclaimed novelist Thomas Mann. They turned to Rossellini to help bring the production together. At first, he saw himself merely as the producer, with different directors working on each of the seven planned sequences (there would be six sequences in the final film). But as the screenplay took shape, Rossellini and co-writer Sergio Amidei began making it more about the Italian reaction to the U.S. invasion. Ultimately, Mann left the production in anger, but later, so would Amidei, who saw many of his ideas scrapped as Rossellini re-wrote the film during nine months of shooting -- six more than had originally been planned.
Part of the problem was the difficulty of shooting in post-war Italy. Even though Rossellini had his largest budget ever, he still had to scrounge for locations and equipment. He only survived the frequent power outages of the time by discovering a portable generator left behind by the Nazis. But he also worked slowly, partly because of illness, partly out of his own quixotic nature. At one point he was in so much pain that he tied a San Pellegrino bottle filled with warm water to his body. At other times, however, he would leave the crew waiting for hours, only to send word that he wasn't even in the same city. His illnesses and other absences gave script writer Federico Fellini his first chance to direct (In addition, Fellini's wife and future star, Giulietta Masina, would make her film debut in the picture with an unbilled bit). As production dragged on, the film's U.S. backers stopped sending money. Rossellini had to pay his crew on Fridays by borrowing against the projected weekend receipts for Open City and then repaying the loans the following Monday.
Geiger had promised Rossellini a cast of American stars, including Frances Farmer and the great black actor Canada Lee. But when the American cast arrived -- on the first passenger boat to travel from the U.S. to Europe since the war had begun -- they were all unknowns. The closest Rossellini got to any of his promised cast was Dots M. Johnson, cast as the black MP in the Naples sequence, who had understudied for Lee in stock.
Alongside these professional actors, Rossellini cast actual U.S. soldiers, local citizens, resistance fighters and even some German POWs. One of his most memorable finds was Carmela Sazio, the girl in the Sicilian sequence who falls for a GI (played by American soldier Robert Van Loon) even though neither speaks the other's language. Rossellini discovered the 15-year-old while scouting locations in the most remote parts of Sicily. At first, she didn't even understand basic hygiene, but she learned by watching the women on the production crew. She also fell in love, first with Von Loon, which added to the emotional authenticity of their scenes, and then with Rossellini. She was heartbroken when the company moved on to their next location, writing Rossellini a touching letter he chose not to answer. Years later he would learn that she had become a prostitute.
With the first sequence, Rossellini stayed close to Mann and Amidei's script, but as the production moved, he and Fellini began improvising. When Fellini discovered a monastery near the Sicilian location, they re-wrote the Romagna sequence to incorporate the monks' daily routine. Then Rossellini had the actual monks there play themselves. When Rossellini discovered a cave inhabited by orphaned children and homeless families near Naples, they re-wrote the Naples sequence completely. The Florence sequence, about a nurse in love with a partisan, was given a new plot; it was based on a story Rossellini had heard about a Peruvian woman who relentlessly searched for the rebel leader she had fallen in love with only to find he had been killed.
After nine months, shooting finally finished, but during post-production Rossellini's son died suddenly while vacationing in Spain. The director was so busy dealing with his grief and fighting red tape to bring the boy's body back home, that the film sat untouched until just before its opening at the Venice Film Festival. Then Rossellini's brother, Renzo, who had composed the score, rushed through the final post-production work. The film that screened at the festival was half an hour too long (the director would later cut it) and fared poorly with the mainstream critics. Nor did it do well at the Italian box office; local filmgoers were already tired of realistic war stories. In international release, however, the film was a triumph. The French embraced the film, while it became one of a string of post-war Italian hits in the U.S. Ultimately it would win Best Foreign Language Film from the New York Film Critics, Best Picture and Best Director from the National Board of Review and an Oscar® nomination for Best Story and Screenplay. Today Paisan is viewed as a classic, one of the triumphs of Italian neo-realism and of Rossellini's directing career.
Producer: Roberto Rossellini, Rod E. Geiger, Mario Conti
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Screenplay: Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, Alfred Hayes, Marcello Pagliero, Roberto Rossellini
Story: Victor Haines, Marcello Pagliero, Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, Klaus Mann, Vasco Pratolini
Cinematography: Otello Martelli
Music: Renzo Rossellini
Principal Cast: Carmela Sazio (Carmela), Robert Van Loon (Joe from Jersey), Maria Michi (Francesca), Renzo Avanzo (Renzo), Harriet White (Harriet), Dots M. Johnson (MP), Bill Tubbs (Captain Bill Martin). BW-120m.
by Frank Miller
ROME, OPEN CITY, PAISAN and GERMANY YEAR ZERO - Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy on DVD
The term Italian Neorealism is now equally associated with Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. Later analysis has nominated De Sica's wartime The Children are Watching Us (1944) and Luchino Visconti's Ossessione (1943) as prototype forerunners for the style. To paraphrase a dozen film school classes, Italian Neorealism ran counter to Mussolini's glossy escapist "white telephone" dramas. Filmed outside the studio environment, often with non-actors, they attempted to reflect the human condition as experienced by the common man on the street. Poverty, despair and other social ills were presented in an unflinching manner.
Previously a director of short subjects and features (some with pro-fascist themes), Rossellini quickly earned international acclaim. For its 500th spine number the Criterion Collection has assembled a box set of his war-era films called Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy. It's a very welcome release, as quality presentations of these films have long eluded collectors.
Rome, Open City (Roma, città aperta) is Neorealist mainly in spirit. The depiction of German troops and fascist Italian police arresting civilians must have been a shock to Roman audiences that had just spent five years under wartime terror and twenty-five under fascist rule. The images have a gritty, unpolished look, some of which is attributable to the mismatched film stock that was used. Rossellini used German prisoners to play "themselves", but only a few of the speaking parts are filled by non-professionals. The two most important roles went to well-known film personalities associated with comedy. Legends about Rossellini filming secretly while Rome was still occupied are not true. The director says that filming was begun as soon as the city was liberated; others report that the start of production was in January of 1945, half a year later.
The script acknowledges the role of Fascist collaborators in the arrest and torture of the mostly communist resistance. The Germans are portrayed much the same as those in a Hollywood anti-Nazi film. The SS commandant is determined to arrest resistance leader Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero). Ingrid (Giovanna Galletti), a predatory lesbian agent in the pay of the SS, has located Manfredi's girlfriend Marina (Maria Michi), a dissolute Italian showgirl. Ingrid plies the thoughtless Marina with cocaine and expensive furs. The ensuing wave of arrests swallows up the film's romantic working couple, Pina and Francesco (Anna Magnani & Francesco Grandjacquet). She's a widow pregnant with Francesco's child and preparing for her wedding day; warm hearted priest Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi) has agreed to give them a church wedding. Pina's son Marcello (Vito Annichiarico) belongs to a gang of pre-teen saboteurs. Marina's betrayal results in grief for the apolitical Pina as well as the active resistance partisans.
Open City is traditionally scripted, but its subject matter is very daring. Actors recite fairly crude position speeches, as when the anguished Don Pietro curses the Germans: cue audience approval. A drunken German officer pointedly condemns his superior's vile methods, already shown in a graphic torture scene. In one shot a man's chest, scorched with a blowtorch, actually burns for a second. The movie spells out how easily the corrupt Marina is manipulated; the perverted Ingrid is rewarded with money and sex. Rossellini expresses his country's mixed feelings toward the U.S. with a sly aside: when asked if the Americans really exist, Anna Magnani's Pina points to a bombed building.
Rossellini's most pure Neorealist movie is the impassioned, bleak Paisan (Paisà), a collection of brief sketches that follow the Allied advance northward, starting with Sicily. Many of the performers are first-time actors. Each freestanding little drama ends on a note of irony, if not outright tragedy, although one chapter in a monastery is lighter in tone. Between each episode is a buffer montage of newsreel footage.
Paisan has a much more authentic feel than Open City. The loose form offers a variety of viewpoints and the moral lessons are often conveyed through visuals. Each episode carries a potent emotional kick. Americans landing in Sicily enlist a frightened young woman (Carmela Sazio) as a guide. A black G.I. in Naples (Dots Johnson) chases down a scavenging local kid who steals his shoes. Screenwriters Sergio Amedei and Federico Fellini advance each story just far enough to hit an emotional nerve, without spilling over into outright sentimentalism.
Some of the episodes involve misunderstandings between the Italians and their liberators. Maria Michi returns for a romantic piece set in Rome about a young woman who has turned to prostitution. Harriet White Medin, a USO performer who jumped ship to join Rossellini's movie troupe, plays an American nurse who crosses enemy lines in Florence. The young Giulieta Masina (The Nights of Cabiria) makes a brief appearance in a scene on a stairwell. William Tubbs (The Wages of Fear) is a chaplain who tries to explain his tolerance of Protestants and Jews to a group of Catholic monks.
Paisan concludes with an uncompromising look at guerilla warfare. American OSS agents and Italian partisans fight a losing skirmish against Germans in the Po Valley, a marshland with few hiding places. The American officers use crude Italian to communicate with their comrades. Rossellini pushes the episode forward without sentiment or "style", and the underdog raiders are soon routed. The bleak finale, contrasted with a voiceover announcing the soon-to-come victory, puts glamorous depictions of war to shame.
Germany Year Zero (Germania anno zero) sees Rossellini capping his trilogy with a story from the enemy's point of view. The result is a much more obvious message movie. Caught in the war's aftermath is Edmund (Edmund Meschke), a small boy in the ruins of Berlin. His sick father can't work so he tries unsuccessfully to fit into the black-market netherworld of have-nots, thieves and scammers. Unfortunately, Edmund falls under the influence of his ex- teacher, a bitter philosopher (and possible pedophile) who fills the boy's head with the fatalistic idea that the weak (like Edmund's father) must be killed to make room for the strong. Cheated and misled, Edmund takes some tragic actions.
Filmed in the German ruins, Germany Year Zero has convincing settings but manages little relief from its one note of despair. Although Rossellini's handling of non-pro actors is better than ever, his story's profoundly negative ending is far too easy to predict. Rossellini's picture makes an interesting comparison with Fred Zinnemann's superficially similar, more accessible The Search. Both films are blunt about the effects of the war on children.
Criterion's 3-Disc set of Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy presents good transfers of films rarely seen in anything better than ragged, sometimes incomplete dupes with inaudible soundtracks. Rome, Open City and Germany Year Zero are in good condition; Paisan is by far the improved although some passages are still worn and scratched. Germany Year Zero finally appears here with its original German dialogue track. In Paisan, it's amusing to hear Rossellini's American non-actors: their appropriately awkward accents don't match the too-perfect grammar in the dialogue provided by the Italians. One obvious jump cut in Paisan arouses our attention: it occurs in the middle of a speech about religious tolerance, and we can't help but wonder what might have been excised.
Disc producer Johanna Schiller has assembled a mountain of fascinating extras. Among the associates and experts contributing to the new interview pieces is Roberto Rossellini's daughter Isabella. Filmed interviews with spouse Ingrid Bergman help illuminate the director's fascinating career, through the 1950s to his self-banishment to television projects in his later years.
Introductions by the director accompany each film; they're from a 1965 French TV presentation. Roma carries a commentary by Peter Bondanella. In addition to the lengthy documentaries Once Upon a time ... (2006) and Roberto Rossellini (Carlo Lizzani, 2001), shorter featurettes cover Rossellini's Rome locations and offer visual essays by Tag Gallagher and Thomas Meder. A videotaped lecture and a podium discussion are also included, as well as an Italian credit sequence for Germany Year Zero.
The set definitely does not lack for expert critical comment and opinion. A 44-page insert booklet has essays by James Quandt, Irene Bignardi, Colin MacCabe and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Seeing the films before sampling the extras is a recommended choice, as the video pieces are loaded with visual spoilers. The most famous shot from Rome, Open City must be repeated five times in various featurettes.
For more information about Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson