Rossellini's Neorealist Trilogy: The Neorealist Prescription


Freed from the ties of the Fascist perception of film making, Roberto Rossellini rose up out of the war destruction to photograph reality. Though he ran fast and far away from the Fascist war rhetoric, each of his Neorealistic films still addresses the theme of a country in war. This time, though, it was the war of liberation and of the partisan resistance. Interestingly enough, Rossellini's post-war films were not all that different from those of the Fascist era in that he used a similar prescription for portraying reality, hence, he had not made a clean break with the Fascist era in which he received his film training. Rather, he modified the Fascist recommendations of reality to complete a trilogy on the effects of the partisan struggle and the problems of liberation for Italian citizens.

The first realistic aspect of his Neorealist films, which he carried over from his Fascist era training, is that of using actual footage of the war and liberation to give each film documentary aspects and a newsreel feel. This functioned, as it had in the past, to give the films a greater authenticity and believability. Out of this trilogy the best example is in Paisá which is organized in episodes that follow the chronological events of the liberation by Allied troops. A voice- over introduces each episode giving necessary information including the dates and locations of the events to follow. As the voice explains the events, actual liberation footage is being shown. Even a map is displayed in order to trace the Allied progress and chart their successes. The voice-over is objective and announces only the facts without any hint of emotion. These introductions are merged so well with actual footage of the places and events described that it is difficult to distinguish which sections were war footage and which was scripted footage.

The second aspect that Rossellini extended from his earlier career was that of the use of non- professional actors. In a 1946 interview with the French magazine 'L'Ecran Franšaise ' Rossellini gave his opinion on the use of professional actors: 'In order to really create the character that one has in mind, it is necessary for the director to engage in a battle his actor which usually ends with submitting to the actor's wish. Since I do not have the desire to waste my energy in a battle like this, I only use professional actors occasionally' (AprÓ 51). Whatever his reasons, the lack of professional actors certainly created a stunning artistic effect especially in Paisáand Germania anno zero . Not only were these first-time actors used only in shooting the film but also in the script writing process. Ex-partisans and those who lived during this period were interviewed at length by Rossellini, who then re-worked the script in order to add their first hand accounts. In addition, Rossellini exploited the local color of these interpreters by employing their regional accent, dialect, and costumes.

In order to pursue the portrayal of reality even further, Rossellini began to occupy himself with portraying an unbiased perspective which would allow the viewers to judge the various ideologies for themselves. He attempted to do this in two ways, each of which is evident in Roma cittá aperta . First, in this film, Rossellini included at least one character to embody each different cause or ideology. Manfredi champions the Communist cause, Don Pietro represents the Catholic faith, and Major Bergmann embodies the Nazi ideology. These characters represent the main ideologies and causes while the other protagonists exemplify the common people who occupied themselves more with every day survival. This method of allowing all of the different political factions to voice their unadulterated views, allowed the audience to examine each platform without the interference of the director's own perspective. Therefore, the viewer was not force-fed any political preference and was urged to form their own opinions and preferences.

Rossellini also demonstrated the tension between the different factions as well as how they put aside their differences to unify against the common enemy, the Nazis (Films 52). He concentrated on a diluted version of the ideological and political tension between the Communist partisans and the Catholic partisans. First, Manfredi, a Communist, expresses his disapproval with Pina's decision to have a religious wedding in a Catholic church. However, he changes his mind when Pina responds that it is better to have a Catholic church wedding than a secular one by a Fascist official. This relatively modest example introduces the political tension between the Catholics and the Communists, the idea which Rossellini expounds upon in the final scenes where Major Bergmann's manipulates their ideological differences by threatening death if one did not betray the followers of the other.

By letting each group present their platform and by demonstrating the actual political tension between these partisan factions, Rossellini was careful to present an objective account that would realistically represent the events in Rome at the time. This effort could be viewed as a backlash against the strong messages of propaganda that Rossellini was forced to use in his previous films. He retreated from the Fascist extreme of forcing opinions to the objective extreme of trying to represent aspects of all beliefs. However, in the latter, an hour and a half film did not provide enough time to present the intricacies of each platform. It was just to much material to attack in a short film such as Roma citta' aperta . In an bid to compromise between these two extremes, Rossellini concluded his Neorealist Trilogy and began to look at other, more moderate methods of portraying reality.

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