Roberto Rosselliniís portrait of the war as a sprawl of dilapidated buildings and ragged souls, with absolute images erected amid the rubble. Rome under Nazi rule is a purgatory of raids and curfews, bombed and violated yet struggling to hold its shards together. The fugitive leader (Marcello Paglieri) and the pregnant widow (Anna Magnani) are the figureheads of the partisan movement, heroic enough to bridge the distance between the church altar and the underground Marxist print shop; the effete kommandant (Harry Feist) and the mannish spy (Giovanna Galletti) play the contrasting couple, complete with a decadent piano lounge next to the torture chamber. In the middle are the collaborators, the bureaucrat toadying to the German Major, the soldiers who can only try to bungle the executions, and the cabaret Judas (Maria Michi) trembling for a dope fix. "We have so much to be forgiven for," sighs the priest (Aldo Fabrizi) whoís last seen riddled with bullets, still praying. ("The Germans have outlawed miracles," says Signor Ferrari in Casablanca.) A Roman spring is the hopeful dream, the chief stylistic goal is to get away from what the Major sneeringly calls the "Italian weakness for rhetoric." Still, Neo-realism in Rosselliniís hands isnít so much a repudiation of artifice as a profound complication of it -- melodrama and documentary chaffing against each other in a mise en scŤne pieced together out of rough scraps of celluloid. Handheld newsreel grayness segues into stark noir lighting, stiff nonprofessionals collide with Fabriziís music-hall eye-bulging, Feistís theatrically queer poses, the Magnani cyclone flaring from under her characterís lumpy sweaters. Unexpected gags (courtesy of the young Federico Fellini) give way to abrupt deaths, the heroine mowed down on the street by machine-gun fire is an offhand Goya followed later by a Pisano crucifixion (Paglieri, blood-stained wall, blowtorch). Cinema as testimony and resistance, its "realism" so hallucinatory as to border on the Hitchcockian. (Compare the priestís climactic cursing of the Nazi with Van Meerís speech in Foreign Correspondent.) The children have the closing shot, as befits a galvanic document of human and filmic regeneration. Cinematography by Ubalto Arata. With Francesco Grandjacquet, Vitto Annichiarico, Nando Bruno, Carla Rovera, Eduardo Passarelli, and Akos Tolnay. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce