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IMDb page here; Wikipedia page here. Watched at home on a video borrowed from the Edward Boyle library, as practice for my Italian listening exam next Friday.

I picked this up fairly randomly in the Edward Boyle library, on the basis that it had that seductive word - Roma - in the title, and looked from the testimonials on the box as though it was probably quite hard-hitting, cinematically important and historically interesting. It's a portrait of Rome and its people under Nazi occupation in 1944, and was shot on a shoe-string budget with only two professional actors and four sets just six months after the city had been liberated. That soon after the events it portrays, and in such impoverished circumstances, you'd think it wouldn't be up to much. Surely it would be sensationalist, sickeningly patriotic or maybe just not very good? But no. That would be English war films.

Instead, what we have here is a subtle and compelling view into the lives of a small group of very human characters. The genre is (apparently) neorealism - and certainly the feeling was of simply being shown the unfolding of events, rather than being told a story. Notably, one thing which this meant was that although there were some seriously awful things going on (a man being tortured to death; a woman being shot in front of her child while the man she was about to marry is carted away), there were also moments of humour placed alongside them (where to hide the bombs while the Germans are coming?! under the table? under the sick man's bed? in the sick man's bed!). This, of course, gives a heightened sense of realism by presenting a life-like balance, and makes the horror of what's also happening to these people - in itself never over-played; just shown - all the more profound.

OK, so there are some clichés. Like the predatory-lesbian!Nazi (srsly!), or the kind, mild-mannered priest who tells the Nazis that God is on the side of those who fight for truth and justice, and closes the film by dying in front of a firing squad while actually saying 'Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do'. The ageing Nazi Captain who'd been an executioner in the First World War, and was so jaded he was openly questioning German supremacy in front of his rather more enthusiastic colleagues also looked too much like a piece of wishful thinking to fit in with the realism of the rest of the film. But hey - I was expecting nothing but that kind of thing, and to find a little of it here and there is entirely understandable given the context.

The IMDb suggests that if viewers enjoyed this film, they might also like Casablanca. And well they might - I do. But now I've seen both, I honestly believe this to be the superior film. It's no surprise to me to find that it won Best Film at Cannes in 1946. And it was no surprise, as the final credits rolled, to see the name "F. Fellini" amongst the writing credits. What a formative experience for him! And well done, Roberto Rossellini.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
haematoma
May. 9th, 2007 09:34 am (UTC)
Sounds pretty good...but I don't think I'll be able to get away with watching Baise-Moi again as revision for my French oral :P !
strange_complex
May. 9th, 2007 11:15 am (UTC)
Well, as long as the people are speaking French, it can't harm!
rosamicula
May. 9th, 2007 10:51 am (UTC)
I studied this film as part of my Italian course at Uni. It seems to have a marked a turning point in both the Italian cinema and the way Italians began to view themselves after the war. It is, indeed, a damn fine film.
strange_complex
May. 9th, 2007 11:22 am (UTC)
Yes, it definitely did a lot for my understanding of Italian history in that period. I was interested by the way the Fascists had become viewed in the same light as the Germans, bundled together as a common enemy, and especially by the point the German commander made about how monarchists and communists might be collaborating together in the resistance movement, but would soon break apart otherwise. The whole thing felt very self-aware, and much more insightful than something like, say Tea with Mussolini (although obviously that isn't trying to do the same thing).
rosamicula
May. 9th, 2007 11:35 am (UTC)
Cf your comments about British war films, one of my Italain lecturers said he envied the British because their artists and film-makers could depict the war so simplistically and were much more able to come to terms with it - even to the point of quite open discussion of culpability for aspects like teh Dresden bombings. He even said that, artistically and psychologically, Germany was in a better position than Italy because one simply blame being swept up in a national frenzy and a complete culpability, but Italians, throughout the war, had a level of choice denied the Germans, and the Fascists were thus perceived to be the enemy wthin, the enemy of their own country, when the war was over in a way that they never were at the time. Films like Citta Aperta attempt to build up what de Gaule called 'the myth of the resistance' but do so with many shades more realism than French or British films of the same period.

You might like Ladri di Bicicletta

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040522/ It's a slightly bleaker view of Italy ffrom the same period and another neorealist classic.

I do rathe rlike Tea with Mussolini.
strange_complex
May. 9th, 2007 12:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, Ladri di Bicicletta is in the library, and kept coming up on the same websites I looked at about Citta Aperta. I didn't pick it up yesterday, as I decided to limit myself to three films, in order to stand a realistic chance of watching them all before the 7-day loan period expires. But I might get it on the next visit.

Tea with Mussolini is indeed perfectly good in its own way - but obviously it is much more British in its perspective. Citta Aperta felt a bit more like being invited in by the Italians to their own viewpoint - and I appreciated that.
rosamicula
May. 9th, 2007 12:26 pm (UTC)
Ooh dear I've just reread what I wrote. I really shouldn't use the laptop without the benefit of lenses or glasses and slouching in bed so my boobs get in the way of the keyboard - sorry for the typo-ridden rambling.

I am now getting all nostalgic about my Italian lecturers at Cardiff. They were an interesting lot with an odd air of exile about them.
strange_complex
May. 9th, 2007 12:54 pm (UTC)
He-he - no problem! I knew what you meant, and find it rather endearing now I know the reason for it.

I didn't actually know you'd done so much Italian per se - was it part of your main degree, or an option that you took?
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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