Another revisitation review. I was right, as my earlier review of this film suggested I would be, to wait for the Criterion release, which is pretty stunning by comparison with the old print; indeed the DVD booklet wryly observes that the new restoration helped wipe out one of the film’s neorealist credentials, i.e. its rather rough “documentary” appearance… But, of course, over the decades the film’s neorealist cred has gradually been whittled away until it stands revealed as a comparatively straightforward work. It was interesting to watch this again after Toni; if Renoir’s precursor to neorealism hardly lives up to the “everyday people doing everyday things” ideal usually attached to the term, Rossellini’s film hardly lives up to it either. Again, the DVD booklet notes one of Rossellini’s key failings was actually his Nazis in this film, and hints at a possibly homophobic undercurrent by noting how he loathed the gay Austrian actor playing the major (not to mention the lesbian angle involving the German woman and the Italian girl who sells Manfredi out to the Nazis); it’s a very black and white division between good and evil coming from someone who professed to believe in avoiding that sort of thing. Of course, the DVD’s crowning irony is the filmed introduction by the director himself in which he says they didn’t have the luxury of making up stories, then you watch the film and the opening credits basically say “although it’s based on actual events, this is a work of fiction”. Does it matter? I don’t know. Apparently Rossellini was unhappy about the praise the film received cos even he agreed it was so conventional, but I think he was overly harsh; it may be more conventional than some have said, but it’s still pretty damn good, and I think that’s what matters in the end and why we’re still watching it decades later.
Rome, Open City (1945)