Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Cinema of war

The other night I watched a movie about a ragged but plucky band of comrades and their valiant resistance against the oppressive force occupying their country. I am of course perfectly capable of telling the difference between this and that; but I have to say it was a just a bit creepy being encouraged to cheer when our heroes carry out a roadside ambush against the occupying army's passing vehicles. The film was Roberto Rossellini's Roma, città aperta (a.k.a. Open City), made amazingly soon after the war (in 1945, in fact). It's a very effective example of its type (which of course was new at the time). Two things stood out for me: first, in the screen time she's allotted Anna Magnani is a force of nature (see her also, equally forceful if not more so, in Pasolini's Mamma Roma); and second, the gripping ending -- not only the final scene, but the scene before that, especially the spectacular shot of the tortured prisoner and the priest's reaction to it. You absolutely cannot get away with that kind of thing anymore, but in the days before our (in this sense) jaded age, it would have worked perfectly (exercise for the reader: how would Bresson have done it, or Renoir?). Oh, and another spectacular shot (of a different kind): when the Nazi soldier peers out the door and looks toward the camera, with a fleeing resistance fighter still visible, pausing, in the background behind him. Wow.

One problem, though: the subtitlers are frustratingly chary with their aid, sometimes rendering no more than every third line. Luckily my (operatic) Italian is serviceable, so I didn't miss too much, but be warned.

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