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Roberto Rossellini is one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. And it was with his trilogy of films made during and after World War II — Rome Open City, Paisan, and Germany Ground Zero — that he left his first transformative mark on cinema. With their stripped-down aesthetic, largely nonprofessional casts, and unorthodox approaches to storytelling, these intensely emotional works were international sensations and effectively launched the neorealist movement. Shot in battle-ravaged Italy and Germany, these three films are some of our most lasting, humane documents of devastated postwar Europe, containing universal images that encompass both tragedy and hope.
Rome Open City
This was Roberto Rossellini’s revelation, a harrowing drama about the Nazi occupation of Rome and the brave few who struggled against it. Though told with a bit more melodramatic flair than the other films that would form this trilogy and starring well-known actors — Aldo Fabrizi as a priest helping the partisan cause and Anna Magnani in her breakthrough role as the fiancée of a resistance member — Rome Open City (Roma città aperta) is a shockingly authentic experience, conceived and directed amid the ruin of World War II, with immediacy in every frame. Marking a watershed moment in Italian cinema, this galvanic work was an international sensation, garnering awards around the globe and leaving the beginnings of a new film movement in its wake.
Roberto Rossellini’s follow-up to his breakout Rome Open City was the ambitious, enormously moving Paisan (Paisà), which consists of six episodes set during the liberation of Italy at the end of World War II, taking place across the country, from Sicily to the northern Po Valley. With its documentary-like visuals and its intermingled cast of actors and nonprofessionals, Italians and their American liberators, this look at the struggles of different cultures to communicate and of people to live their everyday lives in extreme circumstances is equal parts charming sentiment and vivid reality. A long-missing treasure of Italian cinema, Paisan is available here for the first time in its full original release version.
Germany Year Zero
The concluding chapter of Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy is the most devastating, a portrait of an obliterated Berlin shown through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy. Living in a bombed-out apartment building with a sick father and two older siblings, young Edmund is mostly left to wander unsupervised, getting ensnared in the black-market schemes of a group of teenagers and coming under the nefarious influence of a Nazi-sympathizing ex-teacher. Germany Year Zero (Deutschland im Jahre Null) is a daring, gut-wrenching look at the consequences of fascism, for society and the individual.
The Allies had barely driven the Nazis out of Rome when Roberto Rosselini went to work on Open City, considered by most to be his greatest work. Shot on bits and short ends of scavenged film, this film helped define Italian neorealism. Audiences were convinced that the actors were all amateurs (they weren't) and the whole film was improvised (it wasn't; the three screenwriters included Federico Fellini). With its semi documentary camera style and use of actual locations, the film does feel very real. Of course, so does the opening half-hour of Saving Private Ryan, and like that film Open City is at its heart a classic war yarn any Hollywood studio would feel at home with. The story involves members of the Italian underground trying to smuggle badly needed cash out of Nazi-occupied Rome to partisan fighters in the mountains, while the Nazis are hunting down one of the underground, a notorious freedom fighter and seditionist. Anna Magnani (an actor well established in her own country who became an international star with this film) is often singled out for her portrayal as the pregnant, unwed woman who gets caught up in the action on her wedding day, but the entire cast is topnotch. The sparse subtitles are both a blessing and a curse--there is less to read, which allows the viewer to concentrate on the visuals, but there are times when non-Italian-speakers will feel like they're missing out on some juicy dialogue. --Geof Miller
This is a great set and I love "Paisan" and "Germany Year Zero," but knowing what I know today, I see "Rome Open City" as both historically and emotionally... Read morePublished 4 months ago by TUCO H.
Three great movies shot in Europe just after WWII ended shows the great destruction that was wrought upon the cities, lands and people very well.Published 9 months ago by R. A. Pennington
All 3 films exceeded expectations. Excellent quality and they are timeless.Published 11 months ago by Alan J. Brick
I guess this is what the world needs today with all it's crisis? A good reminder, if what-could be in the 21th century?Published 18 months ago by Mats Johnson
"Rome Open City" is set in Rome during the German occupation. It follows a few of Italians, some are actively fighting against the Germans, some are just trying to get by,... Read morePublished 19 months ago by John Black
Rosselini's WWII films, shot immediately after the war, are absolutely the closest experience one can have without being there. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Greg Reyna
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|Does anybody know why Criterion didn't release this on Blu-ray as well?||
Hey, R-bot: I imagine that their reason would be that the sources for all three films in Rossellini's War Trilogy are not up to Blu-ray standards. It's possible that these Criterion DVD releases may be the best they will ever look, though when DVD players become a thing of the past, Criterion... Read More
Mar 1, 2010 by T. Luck | See all 4 posts