More obscure classics from Farnham film course’s favourite lecturer. This week; Italian Neo-Realism, please excuse the acting. This week we watched Roberto Rossellini’s groundbreaking neo-realist war trilogy, films very few will have heard about. For some reason, Rossellini (right) is one of those directors no one has heard of, but is still very highly regarded. Hmm. Neo realism, by the way, is an Italian style of film making telling stories of the poor and working class using non-professional actors, shot on location, with the camera often set at eye level. So now you know.
The ‘trilogy’ starts with Rome, Open City; the film that garnered the Neo-Realist movement international attention. Shot on location in 1945, it is, perhaps not surprisingly, about German occupation of Rome. Opening with shots of the Gestapo prowling around and generally being a bit shitty, the film slowly unfolds into a surprisingly boring melodrama. Of course, it’s a well known fact that the films with the dullest openings are often the most exciting and involving, but it’s still a nice surprise when it happens, and what was a ‘who cares?’ slice of drama soon becomes one of the most suspenseful, nihilistic films of the past sixty years. A scene where a priest working for the resistance and a choir boy try to hide a home-made bomb in a building surrounded by Germans is almost painful to watch, for the precise reason that you know it won’t end happily. For nearly the entire film, this is what Rossellini does; plays with your sense of hope. A sense slowly beaten down by glimpsed tortures and off camera screams at Gestapo HQ mingling with the light music played in the officers club. It is only in the last ten minutes that Rossellini finally allows that; maybe, there is some hope to cling to after all. Not much, but maybe enough. You’ll finish this film not knowing whether to feel depressed to the point of suicide, or uplifted.
Following on from such a film, the second part in the trilogy, Paisa, was something of a disappointment. Probably because it is an episodic movie, and the unwritten rule of episodic movies is that one will be brilliant, one will be shit, but most will be mediocre. The episode set in war-torn Florence is the brilliant one; while English officers drink tea only metres from the front, two people duck through the streets, avoiding unseen snipers, looking for those they left behind. As is Rossellini’s wont; you know its going to end in tears. Unfortunately, the following episode involves a monk being touched, figuratively, by a group of catholic priests in a bizarre recruiting ad for the Catholic Church. The final episode alleviates this somewhat, with more extreme nihilism from Roberto, but it doesn’t disguise the fact that, out of six episodes, only two were more than so-so. Luckily, the final film in the trilogy more than makes up for this.
Germany, Year Zero is the best of the lot. No argument. Told through the eyes of a twelve year old boy months after the Allies stormed Berlin it is bleak to the point where it cannot be called anything but a horror film. Edmund, the boy, is caught between his need to survive and the Nazi ideology his paedophile ex-teacher stirs in him, as well as his own moral side, which kicks in too late. Every character in the film is awful; even the Allied soldiers, indistinguishable from the Gestapo in every way. Rome and Paisa were bleak, but Germany, Year Zero is the work of a director who has lost all faith in humanity, in hope, in everything. And, via Edmund, so do we; at the end of the film, there is no future, no nothing, just a miserable past to look back on. If you want to lose any optimism you may have, please, watch this film- it’ll be the most depressing seventy minutes of your life.