Paisà (1946)

PAISAN (Paisà)

(director/writer: Roberto Rossellini; screenwriters: Sergio Amidei/Federico Fellini/Alfred Hayes/Marcello Pagliero/story by Victor Haines, Marcello Pagliero, Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, Klaus Mann, and Vasco Pratolini; cinematographer: Otello Martelli; editor: Eraldo Da Roma; music: Renzo Rossellini; cast: Carmela Sazio (Carmela), Robert Van Loon (Joe, American soldier from Jersey), Maria Michi (Francesca, streetwalker), Renzo Avanzo (Massimo, helps Harriet search for her Partisan boyfriend), Harriet White (Harriet), Dots M. Johnson (MP), Bill Tubbs (Captain Bill Martin), Gar Moore (Fred, an American soldier in Rome), Gigi Gori (Parisan Leader, Lupo), Anthony La Penna (Tony, an American Soldier); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Roberto Rossellini/Rod E. Geiger/Mario Conti; Hen’s Tooth Video; 1946-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)
“Has a passion, unlike a newsreel, that resonates and its authenticity as an important document of history cannot be denied.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Paisan translates loosely as buddy. In this excellent example of a neo-realism film, director Roberto Rossellini (“Stromboli”/”Germany Year Zero”/”Open City”), in this raw docudrama, gives us his impressions of the liberation of Italy during WWII. It’s told in six chronologically distinct fictional episodes—starting with the landing in Sicily, Naples, Rome, Florence, a monastery and in the Po Valley. All the episodes show the recently liberated Italians and their American liberators interacting. The cast consists of mostly nonprofessionals and a few minor unknown American actors, from the local Italians to the American soldiers, and the dialogue is largely improvisational. It’s remarkable in showing how Italy actually looked during the post-war period; it gives one a true look at the war’s devastation and how the Italians survived during this rough period. However, it works better as a socio-historical observation than as a dramatic film. Most of the episodes are poorly acted and the stories veer close to sentimentality. But the film has a passion, unlike a newsreel, that resonates and its authenticity as an important document of history cannot be denied.

It opens on July 10, 1943 when the Americans and British invade Italy in the south and work their way up north to liberate the country from the Nazis and it ends in the spring of 1944 when the allies complete their liberation. In the first episode a Sicilian woman (Carmela Sazio) is guarded in a lava cave by a GI (Robert Van Loon) who tries to communicate with the non-English speaking girl in English while his buddies go out on a patrol to hunt down Germans who haven’t yet fled. In Naples a drunken black MP (Dots M. Johnson) has his boots stolen by a recently orphaned homeless street urchin and when he sobers up has to deal with the fact that war which caused so much squalor can drive people to steal in order to survive. In Rome a drunken love-sick American soldier (Gar Moore) yearns to meet the pure-hearted young woman (Maria Michi) he first met when he came to Rome instead of the nowadays hardened whores and when he does meet his dream girl he fails to recognize that she’s the prostitute he escorts to an apartment building. In Florence an American nurse (Harriet White) places herself in danger when she rushes off to the battle zone to meet her wounded partisan leader boyfriend (Gigi Gori). In an ancient isolated Catholic Franciscan monastery, in the Apennines, three army chaplains (Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish) have an ecumenical encounter with the primitive monks (the actual monks play themselves) who have withdrawn from the world. In the final episode by the River Po, the film’s best and the only one with good action sequences, there’s a lively shootout between the Germans and a group of OSS and British.