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Watching the Unwatchable: Films Confront Torture

Thursday, January 28, 2010
8:35 p.m. Open City
Roberto Rossellini (Italy, 1945)

(Roma, città aperta). A wartime bread-riot: Pina (Anna Magnani) stoops to pick up a loaf. “You?” a man asks. “Should I starve?” she says. Then she gives him the bread; he shouldn’t starve either. The raw courage, and raw terror, of individuals caught up in the implicit violence of life under fascism is made explicit in Roberto Rossellini’s Open City. Pina is the pregnant lover of a Resistance worker; the priest who is to marry them “tomorrow,” Don Pietro, runs errands for the underground. (While in prison, he is forced to witness the brutal torture of a Resistance fighter.) Magnani’s portrait—proud, plebeian, sardonic—struck a chord, as if a human being had never been captured on film before. Indeed, Rossellini seems to have removed the “screen”; our heroes don’t even get close-ups for their death scenes. But in Aldo Fabrizi’s Don Pietro, and in the little boys who whistle a Resistance song to comfort him as he awaits a firing squad, this film has a redemptive power that is overwhelming.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, Rossellini, from a story by Amidei, Alberto Consiglio, Rossellini. Photographed by Ubaldo Arata. With Anna Magnani, Aldo Fabrizi, Marcello Pagliero, Maria Michi. (102 mins, In Italian and German with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Kino International)