The War Experience in Italian Film
The experience of war as it is presented throughout the history of Italian
cinema is a uniquely composite display of historical reverence and cultural
consecration. An analysis of this experience in all of its manifestations can be
discerned from the evaluation of one or several works from the post-World
War II period within the corpus of the Italian cultural signification. It follows
from this approach that the essence of the results of this analysis will then
represent an appreciative grasp of the aforementioned corpus. The war
experience in Italian film can be succinctly considered through a detailed
analysis of Rome, Open City (Roma, Città Aperta, Roberto Rossellini, 1945),
Salo: 120 Days of Sodom (Salò o le 120 Giornate di Sodoma, Pier Paolo
Pasolini, 1975), and Life is Beautiful (La Vita è Bella, Roberto Benigni, 1997).
Though all three films take place during roughly the same diegetic time period,
they are each separated in production and release date by up to 30 years.
There are countless differences among the films, including film style, genre,
origin of narrative, and theme. By comparing and contrasting the three
movies, an intimate portrait of the Italian war experience will be gathered.
Rome, Open City, one of the great symbols of Italian neorealist cinema,
was shot just after the German occupation of Italy ended. The story involves
Giorgio Manfredi, a member of the communist resistance of Nazi occupation,
who asks his friend’s wife (Pina) for help in hiding. Her priest, Don Pietro,
assists Manfredi in his stance against the fascists. The most gripping aspect
of this work is the style and technique with which the film was made.
Incorporating on-location shooting and the use of non-professional actors
necessitates the brilliantly contemplated realism of the story. The film, which
contains moments ranging from dark comedy to poignant melodrama, also
relies on stock documentary footage and intimate battle sequences to
supplement the enthralling story. The narrative progression of the film carries
through effortlessly, and is accompanied by rhetorically inventive dialogue and
character associations that operate on the allegorical level. For instance, one
scene in which a group of Nazi officials murder a sheep operates
metaphorically to link Christianity to communism while simultaneously
equating the fascists with butchers of the innocent. (Forgacs 9-45)
Concomitant with this method of scrutinizing the film, many of the
characters’ names are subject to onomastics. Giorgio Manfredi, who later in
the film changes his identity to Giovanni Episcopo, is switched from
association with St. George (typically shown slaying a dragon) to St. John (the
martyred priest of ancient Rome). The priest, Pietro Pellegrini, is translated as
Peter Pilgrim. He is associated, by virtue of his name, with the side of good
and in the dominion of religion represents a modern analog of St....