Cinephiles rejoice! A major new release from the Criterion Collection finally makes it possible to see Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945), a landmark of Italian neorealism and a Vatican-list film in the “Values” category, as it should be seen.
Along with Rome, Open City, Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy includes the director’s Paisan (1946) and Germany: Year Zero (1948). Together, the three films offer a living record of the chaos and struggles in war-torn Italy and Germany following World War II.
Previous editions of Rome, Open City were plagued by spotty “hard” subtitles that left out more than half the dialogue and poor visual quality. Painstakingly restored by Criterion and with all-new optional subtitles, the new edition is a revelation.
Rome, Open City was the director’s breakout film, shot in the streets of Rome within months of the Nazi withdrawal. The film captivated audiences with gritty authenticity more reminiscent of newsreels than conventional war dramas. Open City celebrates the solidarity of ordinary citizens, communists, Catholic priests and even children against the Nazi reign of terror. See this film!
In Paisan, Rossellini went further, incorporating documentary footage (including retreating Nazi troops) into a series of six vignettes focusing on the interactions of the advancing Americans and newly liberated Italians. Though often bleak and tragic, Paisan contains hope and heroism. Of notable interest is a lighthearted episode in which Franciscan monks are scandalized to learn that the American military chaplains under their roof include a Protestant and a Jew.
Pitch-black and despairing, Germany: Year Zero follows a young boy in bomb-ravaged Berlin as he is swept into a downward spiral of street crime, decadence and self-destruction. Though these events are seen in their proper moral light, it’s a tough film to take, and certainly not for everyone.
Criterion pulled out the stops on extras, which include filmed introductions by Rossellini, documentaries, featurettes and interviews — including fascinating commentary by a priest and film critic who was friends with Rossellini, Father Virgilio Fantuzzi.
Also new on DVD, Shaun the Sheep: A Woolly Good Time features six more episodes with Aardman Animations’ beloved TV hero. The essential charm and simplicity of Shaun’s schtick is very much in evidence as the ovine posse takes on the Farmer’s naughty niece and a robotic dog, investigates the Farmer’s drying laundry, and deals with problem snoring and a missing lamb — all without the Farmer noticing. Great family fun, as always!
Content advisory: Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy: Rome, Open City: Wartime torture and violence, including execution of a priest; nonmarital pregnancy; implied homosexuality. Teens and up. Paisan: Deadly battlefield and mob violence; sexual situations (nothing explicit); moral ambiguities requiring discernment. Mature viewing. Germany: Year Zero: Disturbing themes, including patricide, suicide, street crime and homosexual advances all involving a young boy. Discretion advised. Shaun the Sheep: A Woolly Good Time: Nothing problematic.Fine family viewing.