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In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish

Italian neorealism

October 11, 2012
The Daily Mining Gazette

Like any other art form, movies have gone through one style after another, sometimes remaining in just one country - France's Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) for example - and by contrast there is Italian Neorealism, which began in that WWII suffering country in the mid-'40s, which almost instantly affected moviemaking around the world.

Until then, movies were mainly sugar-coated dream images, reflecting audience demands for escape from reality. But in war-torn Italy, where Mussolini, then Hitler reduced people to miserable poverty, Italian filmmakers insisted on 'telling it like it is."

With little money but a strong belief in revealing the honest truth about the ravages of war, directors like Roberto Rossellini bought up cheap film on the black market, shot mostly in damaged apartments with available light, and used the rubble-strewn streets for other settings. Except for an occasional star, most of the actors were from those streets; they were eager to work with directors who had a knack for filming them as the street people they actually were. Plots stressed the real consequence of war and the humiliation of losing, or they looked back at the political situations that forced their nation to its knees.

The result was devastating. As the neorealist movies began to fill little art theatres across Europe and the U.S., they created a jolt soon felt even in Hollywood, and what was "real" replaced what was idealized fancy. Soon the independents surpassed the studio system - Hollywood, too, for better or (often) for worse, embraced the idea of looking and sounding "real."

But while the rest of the world merely imitated in what seemed a growing fad, Italy, with utter dedication to its cause, continued to turn out minor masterpieces: "Bicycle Thieves," "Miracle in Milan," and the film that started it all, "Rome, Open City."

For "Open City" (1945), Rossellini developed the story about Italians fighting in resistance of the Nazis who had controlled Rome for years. He scrounged for film (some in Nazi warehouses), shared in the writing of a dramatic script, encouraged stars like Anna Magnani (at the time thought to be the most beautiful woman on Italian screens) to portray a pregnant woman in love with a member of the Resistance, and another popular star, Aldo Fabrizi, to play a heroic priest as a leader of the Resistance.

The plot was simple, against the background of the horrors of true war time situations under Fascist suppression - a deadly cat and mouse game between the courageous members of the Resistance and their foe - both the controlling Nazis and the Italian military.

But plot was secondary to Rossellini. His intent: To show this fearsome life-threatening combat as really as possible, to make it appear almost documentary-like. In reality, it was, in a sense, a documentary with its message, but at the same time it used all the devices for realism that he and other Italian filmmakers were in the process of discovering.

The result was explosive. Bosley Crowther, famed film critic for the N.Y. Times, called it the filmic event of the year: "The total effect is in a sense a real life experience, achieved as much by the writing and direction as the performances, the most outstanding of which is that of Fabrizi as the priest who embraces with dignity and humanity a most demanding role."

It won the Oscar for best foreign film that year, and garnered more international awards later.

"Rome, Open City" continues to rank among all filmdom's classic masterpiece as timeless, a movie that shatters all preceding styles and continues to affect movie making today.

An now the good news: "Rome, Open City" will be shown on Friday the 19th at the Calumet Theatre as October's Club Indigo - possibly the only chance to see the film that changed movies forever.

It will be shown at 7:15 p.m., preceded at 6 p.m. by an Italian buffet from the chefs at Carmelitas Southwestern Grill in Calumet. The cost is $18 for both buffet and movie; $5 is for movie alone. To be registered for the buffet, a call to the theatre is sufficient, at least a day in advance at 337-2610.

"Rome, Open City" is sponsored by The Jam Lady of Eagle River.

Rotten Tomato averages: "Frankenweenie," B+; "Pitch Perfect," B-; "Taken 2," D+



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