Appellate Judge Dan Mancini can't remember who he is, but he's pretty sure he's not an important person scheduled to give an important speech. He suspects he's the type of guy who sits around and watches a lot of movies.
The night brings wisdom
Rome, 1945. A man (Andrea Checchi, Black Sunday) despondent over his fianceée's dalliances while he was off fighting in the war is saved from putting a bullet in his own head by a cat burglar (Nando Bruno, Rome, Open City) who was going to rob him. A young typist (Valentina Cortese, Thieves' Highway) living in the same building considers resorting to prostitution in order to avoid eviction from her apartment. A fence is having an affair with his partner's girl (Marisa Merlini, Time of Vacation), the former fiancée of the would-be suicide. The thief and the would-be suicide save the typist from arrest, and the trio goes to a nightclub for a drink. Into the club walks a rain-soaked amnesiac (Vittorio De Sica, director of The Bicycle Thief) seeking his own identity. He thinks he's a famous man scheduled to give a speech at a meeting of some sort. At closing time, the quartet heads to an afterhours casino. The lives of all the parties collide when pearls belonging to the fence end up in the hands of the thief and would-be suicide.
Marcello Pagliero had a multi-faceted career in cinema. He began as a voice-over actor, wrote screenplays, tried his hand at directing, and found his greatest success as an actor and movie star (most notably in his debut, Roberto Rossellini's Roma, Cittá Aperta). 1946's Roma, Cittá Libera is Pagliero's fourth feature as a director, one that was influenced by his experience working with Rossellini on Roma, Cittá Aperta the year before. Similarities in their titles aside, Roma, Cittá Libera is less beholden to Rossellini's picture than it is usually given credit. Rossellini was the father of Italian neorealism, but Pagliero's film isn't of that school. Like Federico Fellini's I Vitelloni (made seven years later), Roma, Cittá Libera is a fairly traditional narrative film in neorealist clothing. Seen through the eyes of Pagliero's camera, Rome is an aged, beautiful citiscape draped in stylish, naturalistic chiaroscuro. The city haunts are real, and their authenticity seeps into the characters and story.
As we spy on the seemingly aimless behavior of a seemingly random group of characters, the film's structure feels as loose and random as any piece of pedigreed neorealism. Coincidences convenient to the plot begin to mount early on, however, as the would-be suicide's fiancée happens to be the girlfriend of the fence who happens to fall victim to the cat burglar/pickpocket who happens to be the new friend of the would-be suicide. The nameless characters, it turns out, aren't a random collection of eccentrics at all, but a group precisely assembled and arranged so that the intersection of their lives pays off in satisfying narrative closure.
The film also breaks from neorealist conventions in its casting of professional actors. But it's difficult to complain about the lack of raw realism when the performances are uniformly excellent. Nando Bruno and famed director Vittorio De Sica are especially impressive as the thief and upperclass amnesiac respectively. Both actors deliver most of the film's comedy, and both do so with great skill and impressive timing. Valentina Cortese exudes a waifish, sexy vulnerability. Andrea Checchi delivers an understated but entirely believable performance as the haunted would-be suicide. The actors make us feel keenly for the plight of their penniless, beaten-down, and perhaps hopeless characters—there's something vaguely neorealist about that even if the thespians are pros.
Video and audio quality throughout the picture's first reel is rough. The image is grainy and riddled with damage. The audio (especially the bouncy score by famed Italian film composer Nino Rota) is overblown, distorted, and full of crackle. Once we get to the second reel, however, audio and video stabilize and improve dramatically. The image is beautiful. Blacks are inky, white's sparkle, and there is a fully-defined grayscale. Damage is minimal (at least for an Italian movie of 1946), as are digital artifacts. For the most part, this is a beautiful transfer. Audio isn't quite as good as the video. Rota's score sounds much better after the first reel, and dialogue is consistently discernible. But a low-level hum plagues the background of the track, and there are clicks and pops aplenty.
Supplements include a video introduction by and 23-minute interview of screenwriter Luigi Filippo D'Amico. Film historian Oresto De Fornari also provides a brief video piece about the film, its place in Italian cinema of the neorealist era, and background on its rediscovery after years of languishing in obscurity. The disc also contains a theatrical trailer for the film.
An insert booklet contains three essays by Richard Harland Smith of Video Watchdog Magazine. The first is a brief piece on Roma Cittá Libera, while the other two are biographies and filmmographies for Vittorio De Sica and Nino Rota. While there's no debating the fact that De Sica and Rota are far more monumental figures in Italian cinema than Marcello Pagliero, it's a little disappointing that the supplements focus so little on this excellent little picture's director.
Roma Cittá Libera is a lesser-known entry in postwar Italian cinema, but it's a wonderful gem worth 80 minutes of any cinephile's time. It doesn't seem fair that Marcello Pagliero's film is available on DVD in North America, while Roberto Rossellini's far more important Roma, Cittá Aperta is not, but that doesn't diminish Roma Cittá Libera's intrinsic quality. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: NoShame Films
• Introduction by Luigi Filippo D'Amico
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