Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A second film about the Nazi occupation of Rome

After seeing The Scarlet and the Black, a made-for-television movie telling the astonishing true story of a heroic Roman Catholic priest in the Vatican during the Nazi occupation of Rome (see previous post), I went back to my Criterion Collection and viewed Rome, Open City (Roma, Città Aperta) for the second time. A famous masterpiece by Roberto Rossellini, this one was the first major film to make its mark in the now-distinguished tradition of Italian neorealism (The Bicycle Thieves, by Vittorio de Sica, is the most honored of the genre).  Open City introduced Anna Magnani to the world, in an electrifying performance and a deeply shocking and unforgettable climactic scene. The film is a fictional treatment of the terrors of the occupation, the courage of the underground resistance, and the struggles of ordinary people to maintain some sort of decency.

Most notable from the point of view of this blog post, Open City is profoundly Christian (despite Rossellini's repeated insistence that he didn't believe anything). Again there is a heroic priest, Don Pietro, and there are two striking images which refer very clearly to Michelangelo's Pietà and to the crucifixion itself. Don Pietro prays in the words of Jesus that his tormentors be forgiven. Most impressive of all is the scene where Don Pietro is told by a craven fellow priest, obviously a collaborator, to have courage. Don Pietro says calmly but with a touch of irony, "It is easy to die a good death. What is difficult is to live a good life."