Criterion does port over everything from the previous box set, spreading the features out over the three discs.
The first disc, featuring Rome Open City, starts off with an Introduction by Roberto Rossellini, a 3-minute segment originally made for a French television program in 1963. Criterion has included one for each film on the set. In this one Rossellini talks a bit about the development of the script and their limited resources (specifically having to purchase scraps of film) and then its reception at Cannes. The material is covered elsewhere but itís great getting footage of Rossellini talking about his own films, even if itís brief.
Carried over from Criterionís laserdisc (and unavailable since then) is the audio commentary by film scholar Peter Bondanella. Itís a fairly good scholarly track covering the filmís production, editing style and look, as well as neorealist cinema in general. He also covers Italian cinema and the industry before and around the time of Rome Open City, and also covers war time in Italy. It can be a touch dry at times, and there are moments where he falls into the trap of simply describing on screen events, but itís a strong track, one certainly worth listening to.
One of the bigger features in the set is the 2006 documentary Once Upon a TimeÖ ďRome Open City.Ē Running 52-minutes (and broken down into 7 chapters) it works as a making-of bringing together new interviews and archived interviews covering the production of the film. Thereís footage of Rossellini in Italy recalling war time and the shoot, and thereís some intriguing anecdotes about filming on location, particularly one incident where passengers on a bus confused the filming of German soldiers arresting a priest as the real thing (one passenger apparently drawing a pistol.) It unfortunately feels a need to move on to the affair between Roberto Rossellini and actress Ingrid Bergman (though it does at least allow Isabella to recall memories about her mother and father) but other than this aspect itís a decent documentary on the film and the war trilogy in general.
Next is a 12-minute interview with film historian and ďRossellini expertĒ Adriano Aprŗ. He covers similar subjects covered elsewhere (the limited resources, the filmís reception) but talks a little more about the actors, including Aldo Fabrizi and Anna Magnani (known more for their comedic roles.) He also goes over the meaning of the title, which I appreciated since, as Iíll freely admit, I never understood the significance of the title.
Rossellini and the City is a ďvideo essayĒ by Mike Shiel covering the use of locations throughout the three films, covering the geography, space, monuments, and architecture and how they work in the films, as well as camera positions and framing. Itís not a ďvideo essayĒ as Iím used to from other releases, feeling more like an interview with Shiel accompanied by clips and stills. At 25-minutes it might be a little long but itís a fairly interesting examination of the locations used for the trilogy. Just as a warning this feature not only contains spoilers for Rome Open City but the other films in the set as well.
The disc then concludes with a short 5-minute interview with Father Virgilio Fantuzzi (who, along with Aprŗ, offered interviews on Criterionís DVD for Rosselliniís The Flowers of Saint Francis.) In it he mentions how Rossellini wasnít a believer but there are religious elements in all of his films, looking specifically at those found in Rome Open City, which includes poses of the actors and even some artwork.
The second disc, which features Paisan, starts off like the other discs with another brief introduction by Roberto Rossellini. Itís another brief 3-minutes and the director covers the basic premise of the film and the themes with in it, specifically the inability of people to communicate. Not an eye-opening piece by any means, as it doesnít add anything new for anyone who has already watched the film, but itís always nice having the director talk about one of his films.
Adriano Aprŗ gives another interview piece, this time focusing on Paisan. The longest of the three segments by him on the set, running 17-minutes, he talks briefly about the production, which had a script that went through the hands of a few American writers, and also had more money thanks to an American G.I. He also breaks down each episode within the film, offering a nice analysis for them and bringing the themes up front, and then talks about the different styles that appear in each or the use of space to disorient the viewer. While the lack of a commentary for this film is disappointing this brief interview actually covers the film fairly well.
Rossellini at Rice University offers 13-minutes of excerpts from video taken of the director during a showing of his films at the university (some of these appear in the documentary on the disc for Rome Open City.) I will mention the audio is rather poor so I had to strain at times to hear what the director was saying. Heís asked about the possible influences of French expressionism on his films and also asked about the script to the film they viewed (which I assume is Paisan.) He also talks about the actors and the use of improvisation, and even talks a bit about the individual segments in Paisan. Itís disappointing that more of the footage isnít included here, though I assume it might be because thereís discussion about other films. But, despite the audio being hard to hear at times, I was glad at the inclusion of what we do get, getting more about the film from Rossellini himself.
The best feature on here, though, is Tag Gallagherís 30-minute illustrated essay called Into the Future, which offers a surprisingly thorough examination of all three films in the War Trilogy, stepping through each film. He offers a thorough examination of the techniques used, the editing, and even makes comparisons to the script. He brings up some of the themes found in the films, how Italians and Americans would perceive the films (specifically Paisan, and then offers a great analysis of the character of Edmund from Germany Year Zero (and it should be noted that there are SPOILERS in this segment for that film, so if you havenít seen the film yet you may want to skip the feature until you view it.) Itís a great feature, one of the best ones in the release, and Iím a tad disappointed there wasnít more from Gallagher to be found on this set.
Disc three, for Germany Year Zero also features an introduction by Roberto Rossellini. In this one Rossellini explains how this film completes his canvas of the trilogy, and how he had a desire to show Germany in their tragedy. He also recalls his trip to Berlin for the first time after the war. At 4-minutes itís the longest and probably the most interesting intro by the director found on the set.
Italian Credits and Prologue shows the alternate 3-minute opening for the film. Criterion has chosen to present the German version of the film on the DVD, with German credits and prologue, but this feature presents the Italian version of the credits and prologue which is a little different. I would guess since Criterion is presenting this in this fashion that Rossellini prefers the German version, though I canít say this is noted anywhere.
Roberto Rossellini is the big feature on here, a 65-minute documentary about the man and his career, hosted by Carlo Lizzani, who worked as assistant director on Germany Year Zero. It begins as a typical biography covering his early life but then moves quickly to his film career. It goes over his early films and then concentrates a bit more attention on his war trilogy, Germany Year Zero specifically, with Lizzani recalling the production. It moves on to his affair with Ingrid Bergman but chooses to focus more on the films they made together rather than the scandal surrounding it, even providing footage of Bergman talking about working with Rossellini and the differences between making one of his films and your typical Hollywood film. The documentary then covers his television period and then mentions some unfinished projects that he never got around to before his death. Itís an excellent documentary, featuring interviews with Martin Scorsese and Isabella Rossellini, along with archive clips with Francois Truffaut and Ingrid Bergman. What I most liked about the feature is that it focused mainly on Rosselliniís career and not a lot out of that, except maybe for a small portion on the death of his son, Romano, which led to the development of Germany Year Zero. An excellent documentary and one certainly worth viewing.
Letters from the Front: Carlo Lizzani on Germany Year Zero is a 23-minute segment of a podium discussion with Lizanni. As mentioned in the last paragraph, Lizanni worked as assistant director on Germany Year Zero, though only because Federico Fellini was unavailable. Here he reads a couple of letters he wrote while working on the film, first one he wrote before leaving to work on the production and then another while shooting in Berlin. He interrupts himself occasionally to explain the context of the letters. I wasnít sure how this feature would be but I actually rather enjoyed it. Although itís an odd way of doing so it actually offers some great insight into the production and works as a fairly decent making-of in its own way. Itís also fairly funny and entertaining oddly enough, especially since someone reading letters as a feature doesnít sound all that enthralling. A wonderful treat and a great find.
And again we get an interview with Adriano Aprŗ, who offers an analysis on the film and how it ties in with his other films in the trilogy. While Iím not sure on a couple of things heís trying to present itís an okay bit, though works best when he breaks down the final actions of the filmís protagonist.
Also found here is an 8-minute interview with directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, who discuss how the films Paisan and Germany Year Zero influenced them, and when they eventually met Rossellini. Itís a nice interview, especially as the two recall the impact Paisan had on them (I always like it when a filmgoer recalls the moment they realized a film could be more than what they initially thought it could be.)
The disc then concludes with a rather bizarre feature, and one I sort of question being included. Called Roberto and Roswitha itís a text essay by Thomas Meder that attempts to answer why Rossellini decided to make a film in Germany. He mentions other theories (that probably seem more likely) but presents the theory that Rossellini made the film in Germany for his then-mistress Roswitha Schmidt, who was German. He presents a brief history of the two and then, in a bit of a ďconspiracy theoryĒ sort of way, starts to present evidence that she was the reason Rossellini made the film in Germany. While thereís some interesting items such as photos (and a rather cruel breakup letter from Rossellini) I donít really get why this is here or why this should even be an issue. I guess itís worth reading through for the few interesting tidbits but if it wasnít included I doubt many would have missed it. In fact Iím somewhat surprised it is here: Criterion has been usually dropping these text only features for their Blu-ray upgrades so the fact it was carried over is really a bit of a minor miracle.
Criterion then includes a booklet similar to the one found in the DVD box set. Though it cuts out some of the photos and such the printed material appears to be the same: a general essay on the trilogy by James Quandt, followed by individual essays for each film written by Irene Bignardi (Rome Open City), Colin MacCabe (Paisan), and Jonathan Rosenbaum (Germany Year Zero).
Taken altogether the supplements are in-depth and satisfying, well worth the effort of sitting down with and going through. 10/10