paisan: real to reel

Impressive. The Italian neo-realists encapsulated the entire postwar delapidation, nihilism and then re-birth by refusing to dodge the issues by intoxicating themselves with pretty pipe dreams and resonant extravaganzas, avoiding the temptation to money making based on the Hollywood formula of sex, crime and melodrama. There were some good French films such as Marcel Carne’s Les Enfants de Paradis, David Lean’s Great Expectations, and several others, but none looked as unflinchingly at the way things really were: uncertain, fearful, and an ulcerated societal wound resulting in a series of twisted, flawed, and sometimes heroic images brought to the surface by their probings. It was a mirror projection of Italian’s own downtrodden lives and not an identification of the moment with the rich and glittering.

---The Italians and the Americans, or an Italian and the American GIs are walking through a minefield together. The Americans are in danger; they need the Italians to help them. The Italians have been through a lot, and they need the Americans to kick the Germans out. Italian losses are already very great. The woman who leads the Americans through knows the way because she goes through it looking daily, for her missing father and missing brother. The losses on the Italian side are staggering. What themes are sounded? Mistrust, Italian losses, American dangers. And then there's the skillful use of familiar images that might be thought of as stereotypes. Stereotypes often have a negative connotation, but these images give us a tremendous amount of information very quickly and economically.---Read More:

( see link at end) …The multi-episode Paisan is so inspired, and expansive, with such a generosity of perspective, that it seems a genuinely unprecedented piece of work. It’s not for nothing that the writing credits cite eight people, one of them Klaus Mann, the son of novelist Thomas, who participated in the liberation of Italy as an American soldier. Among a lot of other things, the picture opens a window on the shifting attitudes of both liberator and liberated. To anyone who is inclined to boast, “We Americans really saved Europe’s bacon in World War II,” Paisan is a compelling “Yes, but.” It is also almost unyielding in its despair. There’s no savoring of victory; there’s no victory even depicted. Struggles never end. The war is never over, not for the black G.I. who doesn’t want to go home or for the little boy who steals that G.I.’s shoes. The final sequence, with American and British troops trying to help out partisans on the Po river as they go up against some dead-ender Nazis, is one of the most perfectly-realized war films ever made anywhere, a harrowingly concentrated work. All this and Harriet White, the unusual-featured American actress later to become an iconic Euro-horror figure thanks to Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava. It’s quite unnerving to consider the fact that, up until this Criterion reconstruction, Paisan was for most intents and purposes a lost film. Read More:

Paisan and others in the genre ( Bicycle Thief, La Strada, Open City) all have a newsreel,cinema noir,  docu-drama quality, gritty reality with something of a DIY aesthetic given the often stilted dialogue from non-professional actors: an intentional break with the idealized propaganda films of Mussolini which was cheap, heavily censored escapism where the Italian persuasion to sing was transformed from the music of Verdi to the military music of the Fascisti.

Some of the stylistic touches of Rossellini recall the photographic style of Henri Cartier Bresson and the excitement and fervor for images of Street life that a Helen Levitt was capturing; the urban cinematography of Sy Wexler and even the American documentaries for de-Nazification in their stark, grainy reporting style, lo-fi look, must have influenced the Italian Neo-Realismo style.


The black American GI is an MP, and the kid’s a young hustler. The American GI is, in some ways, a shabby stereotype. In our more politically sensitive age, and from our side of the Atlantic, we don’t like image of a drunken American soldier, particularly a drunken black American soldier. Here Rossellini is accurately reflecting the stereotypes many held, but he’s also trying to counteract them.

There’s a play within a play: GI and young boy end up at a puppet show, where the Crusaders, portrayed as Italians, are fighting the black Saracens. This play within the play is disrupted as the pride of the black American GI forces him to take action. We see that Rossellini is not endorsing the stereotypes he is using. Read More:

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