Rome Open City comes available exclusively in Criterion’s War Trilogy box set. Supplements are spread out over the three discs in the set but this review will be specific to those available on Rome Open City.
The features from the previous DVD edition have all been carried over and again the disc opens with an Introduction by Roberto Rossellini, a 3-minute segment originally made for a French television program in 1963.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 it’s great getting footage of Rossellini talking about his own films, even if it’s brief.
Carried over from Criterion’s laserdisc (and unavailable since then) is the audio commentary by film scholar Peter Bondanella. It’s a fairly good scholarly track covering the film’s 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 it’s a strong track, one certainly worth listening to.
One of the bigger features in the set is the 2006 documentary Once Upon a Time… “Rome Open City.” 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. There’s footage of Rossellini in Italy recalling war time and the shoot, and there’s 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 it’s a decent documentary on the film and the war trilogy in general.
Next is a 12-minute interview with film historian and “Rossellini expert” Adriano Aprà. He covers similar subjects covered elsewhere (the limited resources, the film’s 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 I’ll freely admit, I never understood the significance of the title.
Rossellini and the City is a “video essay” 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. It’s not a “video essay” as I’m 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 it’s 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 Aprà, offered interviews on Criterion’s DVD for Rossellini’s The Flowers of Saint Francis.) In it he mentions how Rossellini wasn’t 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.
While it only represents a portion of the supplements found in the set as a whole, the material here still manages to thoroughly cover Rome Open City and aspects from the other films in the trilogy all on its own. 10/10