PAISAN, perhaps Rossellini's greatest achievement, is one of those rare segmented films that never loses steam as it moves through six chronologically ordered sequences beginning with the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 and concluding with liberation in 1945. In addition to moving across
time, the film transports the viewer northward throughout Italy, each episode observing a slice of regional life. In the first, a New Jersey soldier (Van Loon) gets the job of guarding a young Sicilian woman (Sazio) who refuses to say anything or betray any emotion. The story details his attempts
to win her over with no knowledge of Italian. In Naples, meanwhile, a black MP (Johnson) falls into a drunken sleep and has his shoes stolen by a street urchin. He finds the boy living in a cavern with a horde of homeless Neapolitans and decides that others need his shoes more than he. In the
Roman tale, an American soldier (Gar Moore) meets Francesca (Michi), a streetwalker. He drunkenly reminisces about a woman he met as his tank rolled into the city. Francesca recognizes him--she was that woman, but he is too drunk to know it. On to Florence, where an American nurse (White) and an
Italian partisan (Gigi Gori) scramble through German lines in a suspensful episode which shows that John Sturges has nothing on Rossellini. In the fifth episode, three army chaplains (Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish) have an amusing yet telling ecumenical encounter with Franciscan monks at a
rural monastery. And the final episode brings action: a shootout with the Germans against a group of OSS and British. The shot with the baby is stunning.
A film unlike any other the world had seen, PAISAN is OPEN CITY without the melodrama. Rossellini doesn't have De Sica's ability to coax brilliant dramatic performances out of nonprofessionals, yet there's an amazing honesty about the actors' sometimes awkward presence in this film. Despite the
film's slice-of-life approach, it is anything but a flat, uninvolving newsreel. Rossellini in fact uses newsreel techniques precisely to point out the propaganda inherent in their purportedly "objective" style. PAISAN is instead a wartime portrait full of humor, pathos, romance, tension, and
warmth. Handled in a seemingly direct manner, free of ornamental flourishes, PAISAN highlights the power of the neorealist style better than almost any other film.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: PAISAN, perhaps Rossellini's greatest achievement, is one of those rare segmented films that never loses steam as it moves through six chronologically ordered sequences beginning with the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 and concluding with liberation in… (more)