Shortly after the liberation of Italy in 1945, Roberto Rossellini took to the war ravaged streets of Rome and filmed a highly unsettling, yet profoundly affirming story of the struggle and defiance of ordinary people in the face of human adversity, and created the indelible image of Open City. Using narrative, documentary styled filmmaking that would come to be known as neorealism, Open City chronicles the plight, not of individual characters, but of the collective soul of the Italian people. An idealistic resistance leader, Giorgio Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero), is pursued by a persistent German officer, Bergmann (Henry Feist), attempting to elicit the names of other members of the underground movement. He goes to the apartment of a lithographer named Francesco (Francesco Grandjaquet) seeking assistance in transferring money to other rebels, and encounters his fiancé, Pina (Anna Magnani), a kind, but weary widow who lives in an adjacent apartment. Pina sends her son, Marcello (Vito Annichiarico) to fetch Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi) a sympathetic priest who agrees to orchestrate the exchange. In the morning of Francesco and Pina’s planned wedding, German soldiers search the apartment building, turning all the residents out into the street, and detain all of the men for routine questioning. Giorgio escapes and contacts a former lover, a self-absorbed actress named Marina (Maria Michi) who betrays him by disclosing his plans to Bergmann’s assistant, Ingrid (Giovanna Galletti).
Filmed in austere conditions, the technical imperfections of Open City effectively contribute to the film’s overall cinema verite appearance. The uneven film stock, salvaged from scrap reels, create a realistic, documentary appearance, blurring the distinction between the created story and the realized drama of postwar turmoil. The inconsistent lighting seems to reflect the frequent brownouts characteristic of fuel shortages and energy rationing. The rawness of Open City elicits a sense of realism to the film, as if experiencing an actual recorded document of a tragic period in history. It is also a testament to humanity’s tenacity and perseverance, to the inexorable power of compassion and dignity. In essence, a chronicle of the soul.
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