Considering that Rome, Open City is a film depicting the Nazi occupation of Rome – it is astounding to me that they made this before World War Two had even ended. I can really understand how this film flopped on its initial release; here’s a country that’s devastated by war and so the last thing you’ll want to see is a neorealistic look at their occupation.
Of course, as with many things, Rome, Open City is a film where opinion improved over time (although it did win a prize at the inaugural Cannes Film Festival, so opinion wasn’t exactly negative upon release) and is now viewed as a classic. I mean, this is a film that Pope Francis ranks as one of his favourites so make of that what you will.
In terms of story, Rome, Open City takes a somewhat pessimistic (and therefore realistic) look at a number of Italian citizens who are either part of the resistance movement or close enough to these people to be affected. I think it goes back to what I’ve said previously about how it takes an occupied country to provide a realistic film that is neither overly sentimental or gung ho.
Without giving too much away, but the ending here isn’t a happy one. We end with the city on the verge of being liberated from the Nazis and pretty much everyone who is close to heroic is either emotionally or physically destroyed. There are moments that come so abruptly and out of the left field that even I was caught off guard and, at times, felt a bit winded.
It’s been nearly three years (and over 200 films) since I saw my last Roberto Rossellini films – the very excellent Journey to Italy – and watching Rome, Open City has really made me wonder why I waited so long. I can say without question that it won’t be that long before I start on one of the two remaining films from his oeuvre.