Shot in the war-torn streets of Rome using remnants of film stock and relying on erratic electricity, Rome, Open City, presented here in a newly restored print, is one of the key films in cinema history.
Rome, Open City
"All roads lead to Roma, città aperta," Godard contended, an opinion confirmed again this year by the lustrous 4K restoration of Rossellini's groundbreaking film. Galvanizing in its time for its factual portrayal of German-occupied Rome, shot in the city's war-torn streets, using remnants of film stock and relying on erratic electricity, Rome Open City quickly became legend, and remains one of the most powerful and important films ever made.
Open City focuses on a resistance leader who, fleeing the Gestapo, takes refuge with an ally and his pregnant fiancée (Anna Magnani). Much has been made of the film's newsreel-like rawness and immediacy, its use of natural light, actual settings, and non-professional actors, but, as has also long been noted, the film makes a strange standard-bearer for what became known as Italian neorealism. "The actors came from the streets of Rome!" brayed a 1961 film magazine, but the city has many chic vias: Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi were already renowned as screen and stage performers, for instance. The film's plot is conventionally suspenseful, linear, and illusionistic in its parallel montage, the camerawork often classical, the editing schematic in its cross-cutting and use of soft wipes. Moreover, the expressionistic portrait of the Nazis offers an early instance of the leftist Italian cinema's insistent connection between sexual "deviance" and Fascism. (Slavo Žižek slyly points out that the combined names of the big-boned, hatchet-faced lesbian Ingrid, and the vicious, swishy Major Bergmann portended Rossellini's love affair with a famous Hollywood actress.)
Despite, or perhaps because of, its many
contradictions, Rossellini's Roma remains the
site where all of cinema's avenues converge.
Restored by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna, CSC - Cineteca Nazionale, Coproduction Office and Istituto Luce Cinecittà. Special thanks to Janus Films.