In August 1944, two months after the Allied powers pushed the Nazis out of Rome, filmmaker Roberto Rossellini began work on Rome, Open City. The project would become one of the best and most important films about World War 2.
Originally conceived as two documentaries set against the Nazi occupation of Rome, the story, conceived by Sergio Amidei and Alberto Consiglio, and adapted into a screenplay with the help of Federico Fellini, is a portrait of the Italian Resistance Forces' efforts to reclaim their country.
The film is a portrait of the Italian Resistance Forces
The film is a hodgepodge of action, melodramatic romance, historical documentation and philosophical pondering. Written in a week in Fellini's kitchen, surrounded by the fallout of the warfare its creators wanted to share with the world, the plot is urgent as it is passionate.
Rossellini used many untrained locals to complete the film's cast, asking them to improvise off the script. Both the director, the writers, and most members of the cast had experienced the occupation firsthand, and the director hoped that their shared experience would register on film. This is called neorealist cinema, a type of filmmaking in which the people and places purposefully lack the beauty and sheen of the films produced in Hollywood.
Rome, Open City was written in a week in Fellini's kitchen
With little funding and resources, Rossellini relied on poor film stock and a damaged Cinecittà. Though unintended, the lack of quality materials gives the film a documentary aesthetic, in some ways similar to the popular gritty documentary style used in popular narrative films and television shows today.
The film won the Cannes Film Festival's Grand Prize in 1946 — the first Cannes, as the original event in 1939 was postponed due to the war. The film was censored upon its release in America, losing 15-minutes of its runtime. It was outright banned for a period in West Germany.
This week, a restoration of Rome, Open City is screening at Film Forum in New York City.