There are some filmmakers who thrive without resources, and I think Roberto Rossellini was one of them. His first post-fascist movie, Rome: Open City, was fantastic, and his second is equally great.
A series of six short films, each one has that particular quality of great short form storytelling where we quickly get strong looks at interesting characters and barrel towards a thematic point and stop at an ending that makes us reconsider what has come before it.
Each story is centered around how Americans interacted with Italians through the Italian Campaign that saw the overthrow of the Italian Fascist government and the rout of the German forces in Italy. Made with non-professional actors, the performances, especially from the Italians, carries an authenticity and immediacy that helps the movie convey its stories. If the movie has a fault, it’s that the American actors did not receive direction as well as the Italian ones, and they can come off as stiff.
My personal favorite of the six is the second, about a black MP (played by Dots Johnson in the best performance by an American in the film) who, drunk, gets “sold” by one homeless child to another and then robbed after he begins to recover his senses. He shares a wonderful moment where he bridges the language barrier with the young Italian with a harmonica on top of a pile of rubble. We see him several days later when he comes across the child again and demands his stolen boots and harmonica. The boy relents and takes him home, which is a sprawling camp of abject poverty. Stricken by the poor state the child lives in, the officer drops his reclaimed boots and runs away.
The rest of the stories, like the soldier who befriends a local Italian girl at the initial landing in Sicily or the three chaplains (one Catholic, one Protestant, and one Jewish) who spend a night at a Franciscan monastery, include characters of wonderful dimension in situations both quiet and loud that speak to life in Italy in this terrifying moment.
There’s a reason I love the Italian neo-realist movement, and it’s highlighted extremely well by the movement’s father, Roberto Rossellini in his War Trilogy.
Netflix Rating: 5/5
Quality Rating: 4/4