Friday, March 26, 2010

Roma, città aperta

Probably, stripping away the old Hollywood flair and style meant "neorealism": Roma, città aperta (Rome: Open City) works well, and grippingly enough, for a small snippet from the occupation days, but realism? Melville's L'armée des ombres, a film strikingly similar, would have highly merited this tag; Lino Ventura, even if an actor, looks more natural than the "non-actors" here. Realism doesn't just mean filming in devastated cities and showing life to be hollowed out (which is what was also probably thought by the Bicycle Thieves maker) but life as it is. The German officer might scorn the rhetoric that Italians are fond of, but there is hardly any visible rhetoric in any actor's mouth: instead, the director indulges in much of it - the running betrothed woman was bound to be shot; the German officer had to forget his cruelties in drink; the woman who gave them away had to swoon; the whistles sing before the priest is shot. Is this not rhetoric?

Rhetoric might be a reality in people's words, it hardly is when it comes to life. Things don't happen so opportunely, especially when one is not seeing in hindsight. A key force to realism is lent by an inability to see backwards or forwards: one lives in the moment, just as one lives life. To show depressing sights is not the answer; for that one can see a grim documentary. A film must work on the level of fantasy - even if it tries to project reality - the fantasy of a tightly strung thread running through; reality does not work on the basis of what might have been and eliciting such sighs from the viewers, but the brute slap of what happened and can happen, the realization and the fear, the action and the anticipation.

Though Melville's film came much later, as a viewer of the modern age having once seen it I see little to choose in Rossellini's film. The story of Rome: Open City is fortunately centered around only few characters, and yet a poor cinematography and lack of characterization make the film appear like one were watching a story through binoculars; there is hardly any depth to the film, and it seems to make blanket statements for or against each of the protagonists, covering all in a shroud of inevitable tragedy. As long as one breathes - which is reality - nothing's inevitable, nothing's impending!

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