Roberto Rossellini's Roma, Città Aperta (known in English as Open City) was one of the landmark films of the 1940s on several levels. Aesthetically, it was one of the first major works of Italian neorealist filmmaking and perhaps the single most influential example of the style.
Historically, it was among the first postwar European films to gain a significant audience in the United States, opening the door for a greater appreciation of international filmmaking in America. And politically, it was a work of tremendous bravery.
The screenplay was written by Roberto Rossellini in association with Federico Fellini and Sergio Amidei while Rome was still occupied by German forces in 1943-44. Rossellini began filming in secret, using scavenged film stock without sound equipment, shortly before the city was liberated in June of 1944. Several key members of his creative team had been active in the Italian resistance movement.
With its rough, documentary-style look, multi-layered narrative, and a cast that mixed amateurs with actors who didn't look like film stars, Roma, Città Aperta captured the harsh and unforgiving textures of real life as few movies of its time had dared.
It set the pace for Italian Neorealism as an influential postwar film style that combined outdoor light and location shooting with non-actors, a focus on simple stories of everyday life, and a concern for the poor and for social problems.
Roma, Città Aperta shows the lives of a group of people living in Rome during the Nazi occupation, after the Germans had declared it an open city. Anna Magnani plays a woman in love with a member of a resistance group; in helping him, she risks not only her own life, but also that of her unborn child.
Aldo Fabrizi plays a priest who aids the anti-Nazi cause and pays dearly for his activism. Marcello Pagliero is an outspoken communist who runs afoul of the Nazis. And Harry Feist plays a German officer who has taken an Italian lover, but whose affection for Romans does not run especially deep.
While Roma, Città Aperta shows flashes of the melodramatic sentimentality that would mark much of Rossellini's later work, it still rings true as a chronicle of a city under siege and as the genesis of a powerful new film style whose influences include such later filmmakers, among many others, as John Cassavetes, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, and Spike Lee.