One of the landmarks of Italian and world cinema, Roberto Rossellini's masterpiece, “Roma, Open City” (aka “Open City”) announced the arrival of a new, revolutionary film paradigm, neorealism.
Roberto Rossellini burst upon the international world with this picture, made just weeks after the Allies took Rome: Open City became the first neo-realistic film to reach the world. Like Birth of a Nation, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Citizen Kane, Open City is a watershed film whose appearance changed the course of the world's cinema, launching a new cinematic language that favored on-location shooting, ordinary characters, political commitment, and a humanistic point of view.
The fame of Rossellini's brutal, melodramatic account of the underground resistance to the Nazi occupation rests on its extraordinary immediacy and its rough, documentary look. At its most startling, Open City seems a “caught” experience, rather than a staged or directed movie. The late American critic, James Agee, was so awed by the movie that he refused to review it!
Many Americans, used to slick war films, reacted to Open City as if it actually were documentary footage. They also mistook the great Anna Magnani, Aldo Fabrizi, and Maria Michi for nonprofessional actors, since the Rossellini had cast many amateurs.
The movie, however, has its share of incongruencies and some stock elements, such as a rapacious lesbian Gestapo agent and a stereotypical Hollywood Gestapo chief. Some of the plot devices are too melodramatic, but there is a unifying vision and political fervor that more than make up for the film's shortcomings.
Open City was shot on odds and ends of film stock, with fluctuating electricity. When the initial budget of 25,000 dollars was used up, Rossellini and Anna Magnani sold their clothes and belongings to complete the movie.
Focusing on people who a few weeks before had been part of the real historical events, the movie presents effectively a cross-section of Rome as a city under terrible stress. Maria Michi, who had actually hidden men like scripter Sergio Amidei in her flat, now provided the flat for some of the sequences.
Director Federico Fellini assisted Amidei on the screenplay.