Sunday, April 1, 2018

Paisan (1946)

Organizzazione Film Internazionali, Foreign Film Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Director: Roberto Rossellini

Devastated by World War II, Italy was a nation mending itself back together following overwhelming destruction and fallout being in the middle of the conflict that transformed Europe for several years. For Italian director Roberto Rossellini’s follow up to his emotional drama Rome, Open City the filmmaker continued his effort to share with the world the experience of Italian citizens living through the war, including the struggle of liberation. This deeply emotion motion picture shared this through a series of episodes with unknown or amateur actors, Paisan is one of Rossellini’s finest works.

Paisan is an Italian World War II episodic drama sharing the issues Italian citizens struggled with through its liberation by the American military, focusing at many times on the communication and cultural differences between the two. Woven together with narration and the splicing of archival footage from WWII, the audience is led through a timeline of Allied forces moving their way from the invasion on the coasts of Sicily north as Allied forces pushed back Nazi armies, stopping to share six episodic tales of interactions between Allied servicemen and Italian civilians. An underlying theme in the early episodes is the difficulty in communication that creates issues of trust and lack of empathy from American soldiers towards those they are attempting to liberate. The middle episodes open into ideas of loss and love with emotional outcomes that changed the people involved. The final episodes see Allied servicemen coexisting with Italians, and despite their differences fight side by side to the very end as brothers

Devastation of Italy is featured throughout the film.
To say this film is emotional would be an understatement, especially compared to American motion pictures of the 1940s. Robert Rossellini manifests the devastation of Italy by putting the picture in the middle of many of Italy’s great cities littered with the actual rubble that was the result of the battles and bombings that leveled many of its structures. On top of that, each episode is a drama that ends on an ardently sad note, bringing out the overwhelmed heart of what the nation and its people had lived through. The down endings are beyond poetic and leave you, the viewer, feeling melancholy with your heart ripped out for each character that lived through these personal tragedies. Each episode consists of a mere 15-20 minutes, but you come out feeling as if you lived through them as well. With each story the audiences learns lessons on empathy and a want to be able to connect with others on a deeper level to serve the good for all. This was a masterpiece for Rossellini, and it shows.

With the rise of success from Robert Rossellini’s film Rome, Open City (1945), shot on scrap film stock with a cast of practical or literal unknowns in a near guerrilla style, the filmmaker wished to continue to share with the world the experiences of Italy through the war with his next production. Employing multiple writers to pen each individual episode, the filmmaker wanted each story to be its own tale, but come together as a collection that formed a larger, complex narrative of Italy’s struggles during the Allied activities through the country. The title would be Paisan, an Italian slang word meaning “bother” or "fellow countryman," and that is the heart of the picture as Allies and Italians learn to come together and be as one through the hardships and trials of World War II, a kinship even to death.

Episode 5-three chaplains visit a monastery
During pre-production of Paisan Rome, Open City become a massive international critical hit and new investors found their way into Rossellini’s newest production, including the large American studio MGM as distributor. Suddenly Rossellini had all the means he would ever need and Paisan became a production that was carefree and joyous from a production end despite its subject matter. Rossellini could get the finest film stocks for the United States instead of relying of what scraps he could find in Italy. On set cast and crew worked at a leisurely pace, almost as if it was a vacation, instead of the more frantic, stressed pace of his previous picture. Paisan was a passion project, a work of love that he took his time on, capturing the deep emotions of each story while utilizing the cities and locations to their fullest, as if the locals were characters too. The film is gritty and real, while also being lavish, embracing the beauty of Italy despite its state of destruction and devastation it was in in some place, contrasting the beauty of its standing icons next to the heaps of rubble that sat nearby.

Once again Rossellini utilizes a cast of unknown amateurs, delivering unique performances. For a picture featuring a multilingual screenplay of Italian, English and German, the performances are a bit all over the place. Some performances are deeply emotional and real, while others feel very amateur with men simply spouting off lines to purely get through a scene. Rossellini most times encouraged improvisation during shooting to add the realistic nature of the film. For the English-only American roles is perhaps where the acting is the worst in my opinion, and that is possibly due to the Italian director, despite being multilingual, suffering with translation of emotion from only language to another. The multilingual role players are lovely, adding to the overall drama and emotion of the film.

Maria Michi featured in episode 3 of Paisan
If I were to spotlight a performance or episode in the picture it would be the performance of Maria Michi in the picture's third episode, a story that covers the actions of occupying Allied soldiers with Italian civilians to the backdrop of Rome. Here Michi is featured in only her second motion picture, the first being Rome, Open City. She portrays a young Italian prostitute who attempts to take in and entice a drunk American soldier, hoping to make a little money. The soldier refuses her advances despite his inebriated state, only to share a story of about a beautiful girl he fell in love with over a short evening when his unit arrived in Rome, vowing to return to her one day. She realizes that she is that young girl and in love she leaves him to sober up with a note of her address for him to meet her at when he wakes up. The next day the soldier ditches the address, assuming it merely a location of a whore house, leaving the young lady sadly waiting for the love that will never return. Michi lovely performance as a beautiful girl just trying to get through by desperate means saddened further by the event of missed love and what could have been is rich a full of sorrow for such a short segment. Her genuine performance shines through in the character's sadness, personifying the innocence lost to an entire country through this young character forced to grow up under unsavory conditions.

Paisan premiered at the reintroduced Venice Film Festival in 1946, the first edition since War War II caused it to be put on hold during 1943-1945. Initially Italian critics and audiences did not find much interest in Rossellini's picture, finding the film depressing considering the nation began to recover from the war itself. It was not until Rossellini took his film to Paris that he began to receive praise for his vision from international critics. Seeing the international interest Italian audiences began seeing the film in a renewed light and began to ebrace the picture for its neorealist style. The feature would become a box office success in Italy, the highest grossing feature in the nation for the season of 1946-1947, and with the help of distribution of MGM would play well throughout the western world, including the United States. With time it would become one of Rossellini's most heralded works.

Rossellini would follow up Paisan with the film Germany, Year Zero (1948), completing what would come to be considered a trilogy of World War II neorealist picture for the filmmaker. His means of production and style would aid his career, the Italian cinema, and Italy on a whole, helping to usher in a style  of motion picture that would dominate European theaters with a deep, more artist range than that of the popular American features of the day. In time many filmmakers would highlight Roberto Rossellini and Paisan, praising the  filmmaker and his picture ffor its realism and its place in cinema history.

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