Paisa (1946)

From Rome, open city, to Italy, open country. For Rossellini’s next trick, he decided to go from Rome under the German occupation to various bits of Italy as it was gradually liberated from south to north. The film tells six stories, moving variously through Sicily, Naples, Rome, Florence, Romagna and ending in the marshes of the Po river, and it struck me as accordingly somewhat bitty… at 125 it’s obviously longer than Open City, but it has to fit six stories in and I don’t know that any of them are really much more than anecdotal. Plus, while this film is arguably more “neorealist” than Open City (which, remember, featured two of Italy’s biggest film stars; I don’t even know if this featured any professional actors, let alone stars), it’s about as heavy on the melodrama and probably more so on the sentiment, and the fourth segment’s ending in particular works on a level of contrivance I don’t recall from the earlier film at all. Renzo Rossellini’s score further illustrates what I said in my review of Toni about how that film’s lack of music helps diffuse the highlighting of “dramatic” moments; Renzo’s music here is really all about that sort of thick underlining. I’m inclined to agree with Ed Howard too about the non-professional cast giving more of an impression of amateurishness than realism. What interests me in the film, though, is the other theme of language and how it both separates and divides the American soldiers and the people they’re liberating. At the beginning of the film there’s a more or less mutual suspicion (when an American soldier gets shot by Germans, his squad wrongly blame the Italian girl who was guiding them); by the end they’re fighting together, both parties speaking their own language and understanding the other’s. It’s that aspect which I think the film does an interesting job of portraying, and where it probably works best overall.

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