Watched Jun 27, 2012
Less neorealist than it's reputation would have one believe, it's basically a melodrama, and at times quite a hammy one at that. Of course given the still open wounds of the war - it was filmed in the newly liberated Rome while the war was still being fought in other parts of Italy - this fact is certainly understandable.
This film is clearly a triumph in so many ways, and deserving of its important position in the history of film. I can only imagine Italian audiences confronted with Anna Magnani's performance, her face and movement an antithesis to the generic glamour that had until then been associated with the screen, seeing in her someone like themselves, an ordinary person forced to live with terrible circumstances beyond their control. Perhaps even more effective would have been Aldo Fabrizi's portrayal of the local priest, his deep Catholicism portraying another important element of the Italian psyche, struggling to express itself. There were many scenes with both of these characters that I found quite moving.
However, despite how important this film is both as a historical document and as a milestone film, and despite how much of it has influenced subsequent films, by itself I think the movie doesn't mesh well with contemporary sensibilities which demand more nuance and subtlety, and it suffers for it.
It's essential viewing, but that it is a film purely of its time and place is both by far its greatest strength, and its most glaring weakness.