Today is a national holiday in Italy, marking the end of the Nazi occupation of the country, which took place on April 25th 1945, when with the help of the resistance parties and of the Italian people sick and tired of a long suicidal war, the Allied forces broke through the front line and made the liberation of Italy complete.
To remember this event we have chosen one of the masterpieces by Roberto Rossellini, "Rome, open City", made in the immediate aftermath of the 2nd World War by using many non-professional actors acting in the ruined streets of Rome under natural light and in the former Gestapo headquarters, on stock purchased bit by bit from street vendors and taped together. Many sequences were originally shot silently and then sound was post-synchronized, thus blending the style of documentaries and war newsreels with more conventional dramatic scenes notable for their pace and precise staging.
The film première was held in Italy on september 27th 1945 and thanks to the involvement of a US Army private station in Rome who had previously worked for an American distributor and exhibitor of foreign films, Rod E. Geiger, the United States première followed in New York immediately after – on february 25th 1946 – and it was a great hit in the U.S.
"Rome, open City" became immediately a cinematic landmark and, at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival, it shared the Grand Prix, bringing Italian neorealism to worldwide attention. For the directors of the French New Wave, Mr. Rossellini’s work became an essential touchstone:”All roads lead to Rome Open City,” Jean-Luc Godard wrote in 1959.
Conceived and written by Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini and Sergio Amidei in 1944, "Rome, open City" starts with the leader of the Resistance, the engineer Giorgio Manfredi, chased by the Gestapo and seeking help from Pina (mythically interpreted by Anna Magnani), the pregnant fiancée of a fellow member of the underground Resistance. She turns to the priest due to oversee her marriage, Don Pietro (top dramatic performance by the renowned Italian comedian Aldo Fabrizi), to find Giorgio a way out. Giorgio is confident he’d never betray his comrades even if caught, but not everyone can be so strong…
Rome, ancient mater of the West is about to be declared an “open city,” a military free-for-all available! This innate and eternal vocation of Rome is wonderfully epitomized by two leading scenes of the movie inspired by history and reality as in-fact Don Pietro Pappagallo was a Catholic Priest from Bari executed on march 24th 1944 at the Ardeatine Caves together with other 335 people arrested by the German occupation troops mainly on tips of Italian spies, as a reprisal for the partisan attack conducted a few days before against the SS Police Regiment in central Rome.
One of these crucial scene is when the pregnant Pina is murdered by the Nazis while she runs after a prison truck shouting “Francesco!” as the Gestapo cart her soon-to-be-husband away. For an eternal instant the camera frames her short race, Don Pietro covers the eyes of her son and Gestapo’s guns drop her in the middle of the road. Her body cradled by Don Pietro in the following shot will be living for ever in the eyes of the viewer just as the Virgin Mother holds the crucified Jesus in Michelangelo’s Pietà.
The other most poignant scene is when a flock of young children supporting the Resistance in Rome, accompany Don Pietro during his execution whistling his song and when ordered to fire, the squad of Italian soldiers deliberately miss the priest. With his last words “it is not difficult to die well, it is difficult to live well” Don Pietro intimates the child soldiers abandoned to the city without the fathers (him, Manfredi, Pina), to keep the struggle ahead and serve the goals of unification and restoration, and the movie ends with the children marching together hand in hand toward Rome, with a view of the Eternal City skyline and the Vatican in the distance, stretching across the screen, as a symbol of hope in the human being suspended between past and future.