By Stefano Albertini Ph.D. (Director of Casa Italiana Zerilli – Marimò)
Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City was filmed as WW2 continued to devastate Northern Italy. It was distributed in movie theaters in war-torn Italy, and was received with lukewarm reviews by many Italian critics. Nevertheless, it unexpectedly ended up being a success both in Italy and, perhaps even more surprisingly, in the United States. In New York, in particular, long lines would form in front of the theaters in which it was being shown. As director Otto Preminger said, the history of cinema can be divided into two parts: before, and after, Rome, Open City.
For many, the movie remains the highest expression of Neorealism, the most significant Italian cultural phenomenon of the 20th century. For the first time, cinema – then the newest form of art – became the driving force for all the others, from literature (with the novels by Pavese, Pratolini, and Fenoglio) to painting (with the works by Guttuso and Vedova). The cinema of Neorealism was never a school of thought or a movement in the traditional sense, with its directors always striving to leave a strong individual imprint. Their movies remain incomparable masterpieces because what they have in common is the ability to represent reality without filters and rhetoric, while maintaining strong subjective characteristics.