Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy Rome Open City, Paisan, Germany Year Zero The Criterion Collection
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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 Year 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 came to define 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 of both tragedy and hope.
THREE-BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
- New high-definition digital restorations, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks
- Introductions by Roberto Rossellini to all three films
- Interviews from 2009 with Rossellini scholar Adriano Aprà, film critic and Rossellini friend Father Virgilio Fantuzzi, and filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
- Audio commentary from 2009 on Rome Open City by film scholar Peter Bondanella
- Once Upon a Time . . . Rome Open City, a 2006 documentary on the making of this historic film, featuring rare archival material and footage of Anna Magnani, Federico Fellini, Ingrid Bergman, and many others
- Rossellini and the City, a 2009 video essay by film scholar Mark Shiel on Rossellini s use of the urban landscape in The War Trilogy
- Excerpts from rarely seen videotaped discussions Rossellini had in 1970 about his craft with faculty and students at Rice University
- Into the Future, a 2009 video essay about The War Trilogy by film scholar Tag Gallagher
- Roberto Rossellini, a 2001 documentary by Carlo Lizzani, assistant director on Germany Year Zero, tracing Rossellini s career through archival footage and interviews with family members and collaborators, with tributes by filmmakers François Truffaut and Martin Scorsese
- Letters from the Front: Carlo Lizzani on Germany Year Zero, a podium discussion with Lizzani from the 1987 Tutto Rossellini conference
- Italian credits and prologue from Germany Year Zero
- PLUS: Essays by James Quandt, Irene Bignardi, Colin McCabe, and Jonathan Rosenbaum
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The extras include an audio commentary with the movie which helps explain some of the things which the Italians would have picked up on in the forties which Americas might, and probably would, miss. The disc also includes other interesting documentaries and interviews.
"Paisan" is actually six short films strung together one after the other following the American's advance northward up the peninsula of Italy driving the Germans out. It follows not only the progression of the Americans northward, but also the progression of the relationship between the Americans and the Italians. It also shows the destruction to Italy by both the Germans and the Americans. Each short film, while remaining part of the overall advance of the Americans, has its own characters and its own plot.
This disc does not have a commentary with the movie but does have some interesting extras which shed some additional light on the movie.
The third disc in the set shows Germany during the first year after the war. Due to several circumstances the 12-year-old boy of the primary family in the movie has become, if not the major bread winner of the family, at least a major contributor. The movie shows several aspects of life in Germany during this time period. Food and other shortages, housing difficulties, and the black-market. Some remaining pro-nazi supporters are also shown, with a strong hint of them being pedophiles.
This disc also has some interesting extras which shed extra light on the circumstances being shown in the movie.
The copies of the films are fantastic, especially Rome, Open City and Germany Year Zero, pristine, sharply focused black and white and Rossellini's great mastery of light, shadow and intensity and contrast of that palette is astoundingly captured. Paisan is a very good copy, though some shots are a little dim or faded looking. For those who know Rome and Paisan from VHS copies that circulated there is no comparison in any sense -- these are tremendously vivid, absolutely complete (the VHS copies I owned clipped small sections and had jumpy cuts), with superb sound tracks (that means tolerating Rossellini's brother's music which can be intrusive, especially in Paisan though one must assume auteur Rossellini wanted this since he was notoriously a complete control freak.)
Most people with any interest in film will know that Rome, Open City stunned Europe and was credited with creating a movement called 'neo-realism', though one of the late interviews with Rossellini included in the many invaluable extras shows him mocking the term. Whatever one calls it, much that happened in European film in the late forties and early 50's was influenced by both this film and Paisan -- Godard and Truffaut not to mention Fellini (who had his first serious film jobs assisting Rossellini on Rome and Paisan), De Sica and a host of others all traced their choices back to Rossellini's courage and vision.
Rossellini in that interview is a little defensive about Rome, Open City and the extras include the flamboyant stories of its making -- not all true (electricity was stolen -- true -- film stock had to be begged, borrowed or stolen and there was very little available, much of it of poor quality -- true; the film, contrary to standard claims, was not improvised at all, there was a completely written script shot precisely as written. Only a few of the prominent actors were amateurs, the great Anna Magnani was a well known film and stage actress and Aldo Fabrizi, the priest, was a big movie star though as a comic -- it was on his fame that Rossellini was able to raise his tiny budget). All the interiors were shot in a small film studio, not on location; the few exterior shots included serious risks though the one where Magnani chases after her finance who the Germans have seized and herded into a truck along with other men only to be shot as he screams at her to go back has to be one of the most memorable scenes in all of movie history even if her performance is a little operatic. Fabrizi is clearly more comfortable and convincing in the mildly quirky or funny scenes (probably written by Fellini)than when he needs to be very serious or righteous in facing the Nazi villain (glycerine tears are clearly used for him in one scene). But the scenes of his execution are very moving and the final image of his pupils, they've sneaked out of the city to see him die, slowly roaming off back to Rome is another unforgettable image.
Paisan is a different matter. This was entirely improvised though Klaus Mann (son of Thomas) had written a detailed scenario and another American, Alfred Hayes, had written a script. Rossellini discarded both except for a sequence in Rome written by Hayes -- the weakest stretch of the movie. It is six episodes, all short stories, though only a few have a neat beginning, middle and end. All but one of the performers was an amateur, the Italians were found in the different locations. The best of these are the story in Naples where a black G.I. meets up with a street urchin who is not to be trusted. The ruins of Naples, the drunk G.I. stumbling into a traditional Neapolitan puppet show (I suspect a Fellini idea), the street life of the jammed but ruined city and the devastating final scene are amazing. The final story where a group of Partisans and GI's (all cast from life) are hemmed in and eventually slaughtered by a small group of ruthless Germans on the marshes of the Po is stunning from every angle and was a tremendous influence on post war avant-garde film making.
Germany Year Zero is so horrifying it's hard to get to grips with. A young boy in a devastated Berlin where the Germans are starving is the sole support of a dysfunctional family and eventually takes drastic action. The story seems forced to some but the way it is shot and Rossellini's evident identification with the desperate, terrified and confused child carries one through some obvious contrivances. This has several brilliantly managed exterior scenes of the boy wandering in despair through the bombed out city that are tough to sit through but worth it.
The features are amazing, consistently interesting, sophisticated, enormously informative even when commentators contradict one another. A film about how the movies were assembled is revelatory. A photo montage of Rossellini's until now mysterious affair with a German woman (while he was married and seeing other women, he left her for the impossible Magnani much to his eventual regret) is stunning and moving.
When the films were shown on French TV Rossellini recorded introductions (watch the movies first) and those are invaluable. But some issues about Rossellini are scanted -- his earlier work in the Fascist film industry, which eventually cost him much of his popularity in Italy when it was revealed, the details of his monstrously difficult personality are left a little vague (though the letters written to and read by his only Italian collaborator on Germany year Zero, which include references to his idiosyncratic interaction with the slightly crazy Marlene Dietrich certainly convey a lot).
There is also his use of homosexuality to demonstrate the most unthinkable of all evils (the swishy but vicious Gestapo officer, his looming lesbian sidekick in Rome, Open City -- as though the Nazis tolerated open or even suspected homosexuals, they imprisoned or killed those they caught and none could have made a career in the Gestapo of all organizations, the pedophiles in Germany year Zero -- more plausible, maybe, but handled with a heavy hand) -- that's disturbing (in one of the late interviews Rossellini seems to apologize for this but doesn't go into detail). So he wasn't perfect or simple...
But this is the sort of treatment all great films should get and I can't imagine being without it.
You'll cry, laugh, hate and love and be amazed at the endurance of the people who
had to live and survive through the nazi's terror and oppression. Worth every penny
and then some.