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SDIFF Celebrates Italian Liberation Day With ‘Rome Open City’

Roberto Rossellini’s film helped launch Italy’s neorealist film movement

Photo credit: Criterion

Pina (Anna Magnani) confronts a German soldier in Roberto Rossellini's "Rome Open City" screening as part of the San Diego Italian Film Festival's monthly screening program.

Companion viewing

"Paisan" (1946)

"Germany Year Zero" (1948)

"Bicycle Thieves" (1948)

This Thursday the San Diego Italian Film Festival (SDIFF) will showcase the neorealist classic, “Rome Open City” ("Roma città aperta") at the Museum of Photographic Arts in honor of Italian Liberation Day.

The neorealist movement began after World War II as Italian filmmakers looked to telling stories of ordinary people struggling to survive in a country shaken by war. Roberto Rossellini originally conceived his 1945 film as a documentary about a priest accused of resistance activity and executed by the Nazis but the film eventually turned into a broader portrait of Italians living under the German occupation.

The resulting narrative film, "Rome Open City," boasts a gripping immediacy that’s intensified by Rossellini’s guerrilla filming approach. Rossellini shot on the streets of Italy in real locations as opposed to studio sets and used many non-professional actors. In addition, because war was still going on in other parts of the country, there was no easy access to film stock so he had to shoot on film scraps.

The film also marked a career-changing performance by actress Anna Magnani as Pina. Magnani became an icon of neorealist cinema and an antidote to the phoniness of Hollywood-influenced films. She was not a conventional beauty but whenever she was on screen you were riveted to her presence.

Festival artistic director Antonio Iannotta will provide a context for the film by discussing neorealism and the Resistance before the film and in a Q&A session after the film.

The SDIFF website quotes the Criterion catalog about the film: “This was Roberto Rossellini’s revelation, a harrowing drama about the Nazi occupation of Rome and the brave few who struggled against it. Though told with more melodramatic flair than the films that would follow it to form The War Trilogy and starring some well-known actors — Aldo Fabrizi as a priest helping the partisan cause and Anna Magnani in her breakthrough role as the fiancée of a resistance member — 'Rome Open City' is a shockingly authentic experience, conceived and directed amid the ruin of World War II, with immediacy in every frame. Marking a watershed moment in Italian cinema, this galvanic work garnered awards around the globe and left the beginnings of a new film movement in its wake.”

The other two films in Rossellini’s trilogy were "Paisan" and "Germany Year Zero."

SDIFF almost exclusively screens new films from Italy but Iannotta said there was good cause to look back to Rossellini’s groundbreaking 1945 film.

“We decided to screen 'Rome Open City' because April 25 is Liberation Day in Italy: we celebrate the liberation from Nazi occupation that happened after the armistice between the Kingdom of Italy and the Allies during World War II,” Iannotta said. “Italy was literally divided in two halves, with Italian Resistance groups fighting against Nazi Germany and their puppet state local regime, the Italian Social Republic. The resistance to the Fascist Italian government began before World War II. The movement that rose among Italians of various social classes is known as the Italian resistance and partisans (partigiani in Italian) were called their members. The conflict they took part in is referred to as the Italian Liberation War or as the Italian Civil War, when referring specifically to the conflict with Italian Fascists. The modern Italian Republic was founded on the struggle of the Resistance. All this is very clearly depicted in Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece. It’s really important for the SDIFF to screen and talk about this topic especially today because many neo-fascist movements are blooming again all over Europe and also in Italy.”

“Rome Open City” is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen and to be remembered as a landmark of Italian cinema and as launching the country’s neorealist movement along with films such as Vittorio DeSica’s “Bicycle Thieves.” When you watch this film you can see how it influenced many filmmakers that followed.

"Rome Open City" ("Roma città aperta") screens at 7:30 p.m., April 25 at the Museum of Photographic Arts.

This Thursday the San Diego Italian Film Festival (SDIFF) will showcase the neorealist classic, “Rome Open City” at the Museum of Photographic Arts in honor of Italian Liberation Day.

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