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Rome, Open City
cast: Aldo Fabrizi, Marcello Pagliero, Maria Michi, Anna Magnani, and Francesco Grandjacquet

director: Roberto Rossellini

101 minutes (12) 1946
Fremantle / Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Tom Matic
Shocking, blackly humorous and highly emotionally charged, Roberto Rossellini's neorealist masterpiece brought Italian cinema to the world's attention, as highlighted in the DVD's moving and informative featurette. As a drama-documentary, Rome, Open City (aka: Roma, citta aperta) was roughly contemporaneous with the events it described, the hardships and dangers faced by the Partisan resistance in fascist Italy. In one brutally comical scene, an SS officer relaxes in his well-appointed office, screams echoing from the adjoining interrogation cell. He complains to another officer about how noisy these Italian prisoners are. The film's most iconic image comes from the climactic raid on an apartment building, where the young Marcello (Marcello Pagliero) throws himself on the corpse of his mother (Anna Magnani), who has been shot down in cold blood by the fascists.

This set piece is the most impressive example of the Rome, Open City's pioneering use of actual locations, although for all its neorealist reputation, some parts of the film are surprisingly studio-based and even a little stylised, particularly the scenes involving the main SS officer and his female sidekick. Nevertheless their camp villainy softens us up for the horror of the scene in which one of their female informants realises the horror of what she has done, when she sees the resistance leader she has betrayed strapped to a chair in the interrogation cell. He is covered in burns and bloody wounds, and nearby lie blowtorches and pliers. Rome, Open City certainly doesn't pull its punches, foreshadowing a later resistance-based drama documentary, co-directed by an Italian, The Battle Of Algiers (1966).

The accompanying featurette conveys the sense of life and art blurring into one in the making of the film. One anecdote describes the filming of a sequence in which some Partisans are walking down the street next to a tramline, when a convoy of cars pull up and out jump the Gestapo to arrest them. There was a tram passing at the time, and the passengers who saw the action nearly stopped the vehicle to try and intervene on the prisoners' behalf. That was how immediate the whole situation was. The featurette follows Marcello Pagliero, now an old man, as he revisits the locations where the film was shot, and interviews long-term residents about the recollections of the shoot. In one particularly touching sequence, he is reunited with one of the extras, another old man who was also a child actor: it was he who placed a hand of consolation on Marcello's shoulder in the final shot of the film.

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