“Beautiful Shots! That is the one thing that makes me sick!”
‘Paisà’, directed by Roberto Rossellini in 1946, is the second of his trilogy of neorealist war movies that started with ‘Rome, Open City’ and concluded with ‘Germany, Year Zero’. Unlike those films, which told single, small scale stories on the enormous canvas of cities devastated by war, ‘Paisà’ tells a number of vignettes, each written by a different filmmaker: Klaus Mann, Marcello Pagliero, Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, Alfred Hayes, and Vasco Pratolini. The effect of this is a loss of the impact of the other two films, but in a sense the power of each episode, and the thematic threads that link them, compensate for this. The stories all follow the liberating Allied army as the invade mainland Italy, and include (amongst others) an American soldier looking for his lost love, an encounter between a drunk soldier and an orphan, the desperate attempt by partisans to cross the city of Florence without being shot by snipers, and finally a failed operation by partisans that leads to tragedy. The variety of the different locations make this film feel more like a national one, but still retaining that post-apocalyptic sense of the other two. This feeling is help by the use of real locations only one year after the end of the war. The semi-improvised performances are also a factor in this – Rossellini doesn’t ever romanticise his characters or stories – only presents them. There is a feeling throughout this film of witnessing rather than following the events, and as the centrepiece of his cinematic triptych this works perfectly. Together, all three form perhaps the most complete picture of what Europe was like in the few years following the war: all broken borders, collapsed buildings and displaced civilians.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a powerful and moving film. The obvious, if arduous, triple bill would be the whole trilogy.