A restored digital print of Roberto Rossellini's best-known film, Rome, Open City / Roma, città aperta is currently enjoying an extended run – until April 5, 2014 – at London's BFI Southbank. Inspired by real-life events and made right after the liberation of Rome, Rome, Open City stars Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani, Marcello Pagliero, and Maria Michi.
Though not a local box office hit at the time of its release, Rome, Open City, shot with a minuscule budget in the ravaged streets of Rome, became one of the most influential movies ever made. Its raw look, “documentary” feel, and scenes shot on location (though studio sets were used as well) inspired not only other Italian directors of the post-war years, but filmmakers everywhere, including those in Hollywood (e.g., Jules Dassin's The Naked City, Elia Kazan's Panic in the Streets – all the way to Martin Scorsese and those influenced by his films).
'Rome, Open City': Superb Anna Magnani, Aldo Fabrizi
Co-written by Rossellini, Sergio Amidei, and Federico Fellini, Rome, Open City is set in Nazi-occupied Rome. Fleeing the Germans, a Communist member of the underground Italian resistance (Marcello Pagliero) asks for help from the fiancée of another resistance member (Anna Magnani) and from the local priest (Aldo Fabrizi), who goes from a well-meaning, sideline participant in the anti-Nazi struggle to become the film's ethical and dramatic core.
Not everything works in Rome, Open City; some scenes are overwrought, while several characters come across as poorly acted caricatures (e.g., the lesbian Nazi) by a cast consisting mostly of non-professional actors. On the other hand, the realistic view of a desperate, moribund Rome, and the raw emotional truth found in the performances of Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi help to keep much of Rome, Open City as fresh as when it first came out in 1945. In fact, Magnani's and, later on, Fabrizi's final scenes remain two of the most indelible movie moments ever filmed.
I should add that Rome, Open City helped to change not only film history, but Roberto Rossellini's personal life as well. In 1948, he received the following letter from Best Actress Oscar winner Ingrid Bergman (Gaslight):
Dear Mr. Rossellini,
I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only “ti amo", I am ready to come and make a film with you.
While filming Stromboli (1950), Rossellini and Bergman began a scandalous affair that ended up ruining her Hollywood career. The couple married in 1950; they would be divorced seven years later.
'Rome, Open City' awards
Winner of the National Board of Review' Best Actress (Anna Magnani) and Best Foreign Film awards, and the New York Film Critics Circle's Best Foreign Language Film Award, Rome, Open City became the first Italian movie to be nominated for an Academy Award, in the Best Screenplay category. It lost to Hollywood's own The Best Years of Our Lives (adapted by Robert E. Sherwood).
Rome, Open City was restored by the Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna, CSC – Cineteca Nazionale, Coproduction Office, and Istituto Luce Cinecittà. For more information on the Rome, Open City London screenings and its 4K digital restoration, visit the BFI Southbank website. The schedule for other Rome, Open City screenings in the UK and Ireland can be found here.
Anna Magnani Rome, Open City photo: BFI Southbank.