Rome: Open City is an emotional stab at the Nazi oppressors who occupied the metropolis. Released in 1945 the events are set just one year before and focus on the harsh suppression of the resistance by the dreaded Gestapo. Directed by the famous Roberto Rossellini the plot draws on real life events and it makes a powerful statement
The film opens on one of the heroes of the piece, Giorgio Manfredi as he skips across the rooftops to escape a group of German soldiers. The resistance is building a head of steam but the Nazi grip will not be relinquished under the watchful gaze of the local Gestapo commander, Major Bergmann. His lethal interrogations and persuasive collaboration enticements are gradually revealing a powerful resistance network in the city.
The resistance enlist the help of a well known priest, Don Pietro Pellegrini who is also scheduled to officiate at the wedding of Pina and Francesco. Despite the hardship surrounding them they are attempting to build a life together. However Francesco and Pina's young son Marcello are both involved in plans to fight the occupying forces. Thanks to the intense efforts of the slimy, evil Bergmann and the naive and greedy Marina everything falls apart.
Since Open City was made such a short time after the end of the war resources were scarce. Rossellini is sometimes credited with creating the neo-realist movement here as he shot in the war torn city using some amateur actors to fill the necessary parts and scraping together whatever film stock he could find. Interestingly Federico Fellini co-wrote the script.
The characterization is absolutely superb and backed up by some excellent dialogue. This is a thoughtful production and it resists the temptation to completely demonise the Nazis by throwing in the jaded German officer Captain Hartmann. There is a powerful anger at work here though and the brutal raids, tortures and executions carried out by the invaders are rightfully condemned.
Rossellini's direction is excellent and despite some processing problems with the film it looks fantastic. Much of the action takes place on moodily lit sets but there are also several sequences which show off Rome, perhaps most memorably in the final shot.
The core cast are all accomplished. Aldo Fabrizi gives a moving performance as the priest who allows his humanity and sense of duty to overcome his fear. Anna Magnani is also very good as Pina and Marcello Pagliero is suitably determined as the resistance leader, Manfredi. Harry Feist stands out as the vicious Major Bergmann who is on the verge of becoming cartoon evil and there has to be a mention for Joop van Hulzen as Captain Hartmann who provides an antidote of sorts with his considered opinion about the so called master race.
This is a captivating film with an excellent cast, terrific script and a real point to make. It deservedly won a number of prizes and it is well worth seeking out. Like all great cinema it cannot fail to move you.