Roma, Open City (aka Open City) (1945): Roberto Rossellini’s Neo-Realist Masterpiece (Cannes Fest, Oscar Nom)

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, named by French critics neo-realism.

Rome, Open City
Open City DVD.jpg

Theatrical release poster

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 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, provided the flat for some of the sequences.

Director Federico Fellini assisted Amidei on the screenplay.

Critical Status:

One of the most important and representative works of Italian neorealism, Roma Open City was one of the first post-war Italian films to gain major acclaim internationally, winning the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 1946 Cannes Film Fest.

The film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar at the 19th Academy Awards, but did not win.

It launched the careers of its three main forces, director Rosselini, screenwriter Fellini, and actress Anna Magnani into the international spotlight.

In 2008, the film was included on the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage’s 100 films to be saved, based on the fact that they “have changed the collective memory of the country between 1942 and 1978.”


Italian title: Roma città aperta
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Screenplay by Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, Alberto Consiglio,
Rossellini, story by Sergio Amidei, based on Stories of Yesteryear by Amidei, Consiglio

Produced by Giuseppe Amato, Ferruccio De Martino, Rossellini,
Rod E. Geiger

Cinematography Ubaldo Arata
Edited by Eraldo Da Roma; Jolanda Benvenuti
Music by Renzo Rossellini
Distributed by Minerva Film (Italy)
Joseph Burstyn & Arthur Mayer (U.S.)

Release date: September 27, 1945

Running time: 105 minutes
Box office $1 million


Aldo Fabrizi as Don Pietro Pellegrini
Anna Magnani as Pina
Marcello Pagliero as Giorgio Manfredi
Vito Annicchiarico as Marcello
Nando Bruno as Agostino
Harry Feist as Major Bergmann
Giovanna Galletti as Ingrid
Francesco Grandjacquet as Francesco
Eduardo Passarelli as Police Sergeant
Maria Michi as Marina Mari
Carla Rovere as Lauretta
Carlo Sindici as Police Commissioner
Joop van Hulzen as Captain Hartmann
Ákos Tolnay as Austrian deserter
Alberto Tavazzi as Priest