A tale of one city divided in two, a place where Nazi villains prowl the open streets and the secretive Resistance haunts the crumbling underworld of proud Rome. Director Roberto Rossellini’s neo noir masterpiece combines elements of melodrama and action genre with the brutal reality of tiny people making a big difference.
The labyrinthine narrative begins with goose-stepping authority as a Partisan narrowly escapes from German soldiers. He is later introduced as Giorgio Manfredi, a member of the Resistance who is dedicated to publishing black-market literature about the Nazi occupation. Though Manfredi is ubiquitous throughout, there is no single protagonist as many characters are introduced and fade in and out of the story. From Pina and her fiancé Francesco, to the Priest Don Pietro and the betrayer Marina, Rossellini structures the film around a central plot point in which all the characters revolve. His use of non-professional actors and the casual use of slang and dialect create a sense of documentary reality, heightened by the use of bombed-out locations amid the poverty and squalor; these are set-pieces created by a very real war, the world has become a stage for the darkened cinema. Rossellini often descends into melodrama, relying on standard cinematic tropes to give life to emotion and sentimentality, fracturing the illusion. There is little room for personal investment: the Germans are all bad (Pina is pregnant and shot dead for no reason) and the Resistance fighters are all good. In time of war these borders may appear well-defined but should be considered subjectively. But Rossellini considers Pietro’s fate very carefully as he must decide between virtue and vice in the face of death.
Finally, he gives the moral high road to the priest who faces his execution with fear and dignity, passing The Word to a younger generation who shall fight for all that is good. Final Grade: (A)