Rome, Open City ★★★★

First time seeing a Rossellini film, so the usual caveats apply here.

This is a grim, painfully realistic, oddly elegant narrative of life in Nazi-occupied Italy; it now has the feel of a harrowingly detailed period piece but of course at the time was practically breaking news. The same sense of overwhelming grief in real time that hangs over films like Marie-Louise and Le Corbeau is readily evident throughout, along with the menace that would eventually mark the backdrops of The Third Man. The great success in the performances (headed by stoic, sophisticated Marcello Pagliero, heartbreaking Aldo Fabrizi, irresistibly plucky Anna Magnani) and screenplay is how familiar and intimate we're allowed to become with the characters, who in contrast to so many movies about civilian life during wartime feel like they approximate the actual behaviors and attitudes of real people living in such conditions, as opposed to one-dimensional victims. As day to day life gives way to violence and tragedy, the film could easily waver into empty bleakness, and it certainly doesn't hedge on its depiction of who the Nazis were and what they really did, but Rossellini's unwavering camera finds an ethereal beauty and dignity in the faces of those suffering tremendous loss, and in the unblinking world around them; the film contains multiple shots of incaluable brilliance and influence, and the unbroken spirit that manages to peek through the cracks in the final moments could scarcely find a stronger, less sentimental vessel than this production.

I don't wish to compose a review by simply comparing a given movie to other movies, but the fact that this film was produced (in scrappy conditions, largely with discarded film stock!) in 1945 when the ground wasn't even yet cooled off from the treading boots of war says a lot about our modern inability, in America at least, to talk about politics in cinema and TV without about twelve layers of safe distance from actual current events.