The BFI has released a three-disk Blu-ray set of Robert Rossellini’s celebrated ‘War Trilogy’. The three films, Rome, Open City (1945), Paisà (1946) and Germany Year Zero (1948) are among the jewels in neorealism’s crown. Set in Italy during the German Occupation and its aftermath, the first two films depict Italy wartorn and almost on the brink of capitulation, while the third looks at a post-war Germany shattered by the conflict. Rossellini had made three fascist propaganda films during the war: The White Navy (1941 – detailing hospital ships), A Pilot Returns (1942 – the air force) and Man of the Cross (1943 – the Eastern Front). But in the immediate post-war period his War Trilogy told a very different story of the war, often from a civilian perspective. The Allies invaded Italy, first in Sicily in July 1943 and later the mainland in September of that year. As the liberators fought their way northward, the Germans exacted terrible revenge on their one-time allies.


ROME OPEN CITY Set in the winter of 1943-44, Rome, Open City depicts the hunt for Giorgio Manfredi (Marcell Pagliero), a resistance leader in Rome. Another member of the resistance, Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), is due to marry widow Pina (Anna Magnani), but on their wedding day the Gestapo and Italian fascists raid their apartment block. Later SS Major Bergmann (Harry Feist) captures Manfredi and also orders the execution of a priest, Don Pietro Pellegrini (Aldo Fabrizi), who has aided the resistance. Rome, Open City is a powerful film about the German occupation, made on location and with a strong sense of authenticity. The ‘Open City’ epithet is a reference to Rome being declared an ‘open city’ on 14 August 1943, meaning that the defenders had abandoned all efforts to protect the city. This tactic was intended to safeguard the civilian population and the historical landmarks from street fighting and aerial bombing (Paris had made the same declaration in 1940, as did Brussels and Oslo). Rome, Open City headlines Anna Magnani’s star-making role and established Rossellini on the international stage as a leading light of the neorealist movement. Mangani’s death scene, outside her house in Via Raimondo Montecuccoli in Rome, is among the most famous moments in international cinema. The BFI’s release is a newly-remastered presentation of the film. Also included on the disk is Children of Open City (2005, 51 mins) a documentary about the making of the film with Vito Annicchiarico (who played Pina’s son in the film), and an illustrated booklet by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Paul Fairclough.


PAISÀ My personal favourite of the trilogy, Paisa is perhaps Rossellini’s greatest film. Here the grit and sorrow of neorealism combines with newsreel combat footage to moving effect. The six-episode film is set during the Allied campaign to liberate Italy. It begins in Sicily in 1943 and concludes in the Po Delta in the winter of 1944. In the first episode, Carmela (Carmela Sazio), a young Sicilian woman, acts as a guide to a GI patrol on a nighttime patrol. When GI Joe (Robert Van Loon) attempts to show her a photo of his sister, he strikes a light and a German sniper kills him. Later the GI’s think Carmela is responsible for Joe’s death. Episode two is set in Naples. Orphaned street urchin Pasquale (Alfonso Pasca) steals the boots off drunken American military policeman Joe (Dots Johnson). Later the MP meets Pasquale again and when he sees Pasquale’s squalid living conditions and those of other Neapolitan civilians, he realises why the orphan needs to steal boots. In Rome following the Anzio landings, Sherman tank crewman Fred (Gar Moore) hitches up with a prostitute. He drunkenly remembers that six months ago, on his first arrival in Rome, he met a wonderful Roman girl called Francesca. He is too drunk to realise that the woman he is with is Francesca, who has been compelled to become a ‘working girl’ to avoid starvation. The film continues with an episode set during the German retreat north through Tuscan. In Florence, British nurse Harriet (Harriet White) and Massimo (Enzo Tarascio) attempt to cross the River Arno: she to contact her lover, Guido Lombardi who is now heroic partisan leader Lupo (Wolf), he to see his wife and child whose house is caught up in the fighting. Traversing rooftops and rubble, and avoiding fascist snipers and patrols, they make contact with partisans in the German occupied zone. In the next story, at the Gothic Line three US chaplains – Captain Bill Martin (William Tubbs), Captain Feldman (Elmer Feldman) and Captain Jones (Newell Jones) – seek shelter in a Franciscan monastery in the Apennines. The chaplains give the monks Hershey bars and their supplies of tinned food, but the monks’ attitudes change when they discover that two of the chaplains are not of the ‘true faith’, but are Jewish and Protestant. In the final episode, anti-fascist partisans and American OSS operatives fight the Germans in the Po Delta, south of Venice. This episode is the most actionful and climaxes with a battle between the partisans and German gunboats on the delta. Paisà depicts the stark reality of war and its wider impact on society in a way that makes Hollywood and British war films of the period look inauthentic in comparison. The BFI’s presentation of Paisà includes Into the Future (2009), a 30-minute visual essay on the War Trilogy by film scholar Tag Gallagher, and an illustrated booklet written by Gallagher.


GERMANY YEAR ZERO Set and filmed in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of Germany’s defeat, Germany Year Zero (1948) follows a German family, the Köhlers. The father (Ernst Pittschau), a widower, is infirm: the victim of a weak heart and poor diet. His daughter Eva (Ingetraud Hinze) works at night as a prostitute and his eldest son Karl-Heinz, an ex-soldier, is in hiding and fears being carted off to a prison camp. The film’s principal protagonists, the Köhlers’ youngest son Edmund (Edmund Meschke), falls in with gangs of petty thieves and street kid urchins, and hawks wares on the street for his old schoolteacher, Mr Henning (Erich Gühne). Rossellini’s documentary-like style and good performances ensure the degradation of post-war life in ruined Berlin is palpable. Piles of real Berlin masonry, as photographed by Robert Juillard, are the haunting backdrop to the story. The BFI edition is a restored print and includes a booklet with writing on Rossellini by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Paul Fairclough. The disk also features Rossellini’s 1948 film, L’amore: Due storie d’amore, a two-part film starring Anna Magnani, which runs 77 minutes. The first part, A Human Voice, is a screen adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s La Voix humaine while the second, The Miracle, was based on a story by Federico Fellini, who was also the film’s assistant director and appears in the film as a shepherd. The three films are available on Blu-ray as a limited edition numbered boxed set or as individual DVDs. The extras are comprehensive and enlightening. These are superb presentations of three key Italian films and as a set are essential purchases for anyone interested in post-war world cinema.

Blu-ray product details: RRP: £49.99 / Cat. no. BFIB1193 Certificate 12 Variously in Italian, German and English language, with optional English subtitles/ 301 mins / BD50 x3 / 1080p / 24 fps / PCM mono audio (48k/24-bit) / Region B/2 All three films are in 1.33:1 screen ratio Individual DVD releases RRP £19.99 Region 2



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