Even in Italy, a country that was, to a degree ravaged by both sides in WWII, the conflict eventually came to an end, and things went back to normal, even to the point where politically charged films could be made.
Of course, the open wound that directors could stick their cameras into was the memory of the war itself and the deep divisions in Italian society. So for our next film from the 1001 films to see before you die, we give you Roma, Città Aperta (Rome, Open City), the first of Roberto Rossellini‘s Neorrealist films, and probably the most raw.
It’s a film about fear and loyalty–both extreme loyalty and the confused, divided kind–as well as about betrayal, and the cost of not being true.
It’s also a film about strange bedfellows in which we see a Catholic Priest share the fate of a Communist revolutionary, and women dying alongside their men.
All of these effects are heightened by how it looks. The lack of availability of adequate processing facilities as well as the difficulty in obtaining film stock means that the imagery isn’t of the quality one expected from the era; at times, it looks more like a war documentary filmed at the front than the output of a studio.
The one criticism that has been leveled against it is valid: this is more of a melodramatic piece than an unflinching slice of realism. But even that works in the film’s favor, making it more powerful than a pure expression of realist ideas could have achieved.
But powerful as what? This isn’t so much an anti-war film as one that decries the hypocrisy of humanity. I feel that, melodrama aside, it shrugs its shoulders at the way we are… and therein lies its ultimate success, and its capacity to be classified as neorrealist.
It’s impossible to analyze it further without spoilers, but this truly is a film that everyone should see. People haven’t changed since it was made, after all.