Precious Bodily Fluids

Roma, città aperta


With every beginning to every movement, exaggerations of description abound. For all the importance of Roberto Rossellini’s Roma, città aperta (Rome, Open City) in setting a precedent for Italian Neorealism, the account given by Millicent Marcus in Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism seems to glorify a little the birth of this cinematic baby. To push the illustration, it’s not unlike a description of the beauty of childbirth that neglects the very real (note, not “neo”-real) and painful mess that delivery also tends to be. Roma, città aperta was not a documentary and had to intention of being one. Marcus claims that the film is “antirhetorical,” intended to display the real situation of wartime Rome. Not only, Marcus points out, are all the events based on true accounts, but scenes such as Manfredi spitting in the face of an overly talkative and torture-happy Nazi officer offer support for the thesis that Rossellini’s location shooting, natural lighting, and documentary-like style were intended to cut through cinema’s overly rhetorical nature. Why would Rossellini particularly want to undercut rhetoric? Because of Mussolini and all of his empty talk. However, it can be just as easily argued that a more life-like depiction of the wartime dilemmas of Roman citizens is itself the most efficacious kind of rhetoric, a kind that may dispose of verbal arguments in favor of cinematic ones. Cinema gives priority to the image over the word, anyway, so perhaps it was deft of Rossellini to utilize the kind of rhetoric he did. Aside from this, however, Marcus offers a helpful interpretation of the film. He points to the juxtapositioning of humor with tragedy, the shift that occurs halfway through the film at the death of Pina, Rossellini’s anti-pietistic but decidedly Christian sympathies, the identification of Don Pietro with the symbol of Christianity in St. Peter’s (“San Pietro”), and the film’s conclusion with a boy carrying the namesake of the (re-)birth of Rome: Romoletto. Rossellini holds his characters responsible for their failures and dreams of better days to come for the Open City, when actual Don Pietros will guide the people without need for filmic examples. As Marcus observes, that day has yet to arrive.


This entry was published on February 15, 2009 at 7:44 pm. It’s filed under 1940s Cinema, Italian film and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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