Having finally procured a copy, let’s take a trip in the way back machine to film #6 in the World War II Marathon!
Written By: Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini & Roberto Rossellini
Directed By: Roberto Rossellini
Up until this point there has been one glaring hole in the Filmspotting World War II Marathon, at least that’s been true on my end. You see, here’s the thing, I’m a purist at heart when it comes to my movies. If a movie was intended to be watched a certain way then that’s how I want to watch, once the film is in progress it’s all interpretive gravy. But, when it comes to tracking down a film and watching it I want to watch every film I ever bear witness to in the way that it was meant to be seen. In the case of Roma, Città Aperta that meant in it’s original badly dubbed foreign language version, not the readily available English dub. Because of my purist tendencies I had to skip over Roma, Città Aperta until such a time as I could get my hands on the foreign language version, and it is only now after I have moved some twenty films past Roma, Città Aperta’s place in the marathon that I have managed to snag a copy. Trust me when I tell you this, the wait was well worth it, and hopefully I can adequately express why I feel that way to you, my loyal and cracking readers.
It’s the adequate part of that last sentence that is give me some measure of pause. I know that I fell in love with Roma, Città Aperta more and more as each second ticked by on the DVD interface, but how do I express that love in a way that doesn’t sound fanboyish? Not being a professional critic I think I get too hung up on trying to sound professional at times, but whatever, my writing style has always been rather professional and I don’t see myself bucking that trend anytime soon, all crass jokes aside.
With that excursion into the not often used brain of William Thompson out of the way, let’s get rolling with the actual review of Roma, Città Aperta. Arresting is the best word I can think of to describe Roma, Città Aperta. It’s a simple film for sure, you won’t see any flourishes with the camera or flowery words in the script but that doesn’t stop Roberto Rossellini from crafting a film with an arresting sense of tension. Roma, Città Aperta isn’t loud or bombastic, it merely is and in its honest existence it finds the ability to be full of such tension that off the top of my head I can’t think of a more tension filled movie. There are scenes, many of them in fact, in Roma, Città Aperta of people walking and talking that become more than simple walk and talks, and that is due to Rossellini’s implementation of the always unrelenting tension.
Yet, for all the tension there is something underneath, driving the tension to even taller heights, fear. It’s very hard for a film to make fear palpable, but Roma, Città Aperta succeeds at doing this from its very first moments. You never know what will or could happen throughout the entire run time, no character is safe, no place is sacred. It’s when you realize that the everyday act of getting a loaf of bread has become something else entirely that the truth of the fear behind the lives of the characters in Roma, Città Aperta truly comes to the forefront. It isn’t just the Italians either, the fear in the Germans is palpable as well, their entire way of life could be snatched from them at a moment’s notice and in their eyes you see that they know this is what will happen and that fills them with fear.
What binds the fear and tension together is the honest nature of Roma, Città Aperta. This is a film full of little moments of people doing normal things, the sort of things that you or I could imagine seeing outside of our sheltered adobes. When Don Pietro adjusts a statue of a saint so that he isn’t staring at the bare front or back of another statue, we chuckle, because we all know a person who would do such a thing. When the kids return home from a successful mission, albeit with disastrous repercussions, we can relate to their parents angry reaction, we’ve all been there when we’ve come home too late from doing something we shouldn’t be doing. It’s that level of honesty and realism that isn’t found in most films, let alone war dramas, that is the egg necessary for the cornbread muffin that is Roma, Città Aperta to not fall apart.
I hope that was adequate enough for you, it’s hard for me to tell reading over it myself, but I’m dense even when I’m not trying to use my brain. I had heard a lot about Roma, Città Aperta, thanks to including it in the marathon and seeing it in a lot of all-time best lists, and that meant my expectations for it were pretty high. Not only did Roma, Città Aperta meet those expectations, it flew by them without bothering to stop for a second. There is a reason why this film is considered an all-time great and if my words weren’t enough to convince you then I suggest seeking out a copy of Roma, Città Aperta and taking in its amazing qualities, that should be more than enough to convince you where I couldn’t.