Thursday, August 31, 2017

Open City

In one of the most iconic moments of Roberto Rossellini’s Open City (1945), recently revived at Film Forum, the Germans pull up on the street where Pina (Anna Magnani) lives with her son Marcello (Vito Annicchiarico). Leading a caravan of trucks filled with soldiers, a motorcycle screeches to a halt turning its wheel like  a curlicue of punctuation. This is the famous scene where Magnani will be shot in the back as she passionately charges towards her fiancé Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet) who’s being dragged away on the day before their wedding. The rooftops in Open City tell the whole story and the camera in this scene is actually filming from the point of view of a resistance fighter who would execute a surprise attack. The band of young proto-revolutionary/altarboys store their bombs on a roof and it’s from a perch above a highway that the trucks full of prisoners will later be ambushed. Rome is a city of vistas. There are seven hills from which the panorama of the city including St. Peters can be viewed, but the recurring image of Open City is one of ascent. You look up into the stairwell as the priest Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi) climbs pursued by German soldiers. He’s supposed to be reading last rites to an  sickly old man and amidst the horror there's a lighthearted moment where he uses a frying to pan muffle his parishioner's protests. It foreshadows the horror of a later scene where the priest has to perform last rites on Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero), a heroic rebel who has been tortured to death. “You tried to kill his soul and all you killed was his body,” says Don Pietro. The city is under siege and yet the populace like the camera rises above its earthbound condition.

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