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Roma Citta Libera

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Roma Citta' Libera (1946)

Marcello Pagliero's little-seen Roma Citta Libera is a film that is rather difficult to classify. Made in an era of Italian cinema characterized by neorealism, Pagliero's film has elements which are recognizably Italian neorealist (desperate, impoverished working class characters, a story dealing with the hardships of life in postwar Italy, an overriding sense of hopelessness) and yet, the film does not fit snuggly into this categorization. Instead, Roma Citta Libera integrates these neorealist details into a story that has more in common with Rene Clair's Le Million than with Roberto Rosselini's Rome, Open City.

The harsh realities of life in Italy following the war are integral to Roma Citta Libera, both visually and narratively. However, throughout the film what begins as pessimism fed by day to day hardships, is eventually tempered by a prevailing sense of hope which often arrives by mere chance or folly. For example a man, who is both broke and brokenhearted, decides to commit suicide, but is saved at the last moment by a petty thief who happens to be in the wrong place at the right time.

The element of chance also ties the various characters and storylines together by way of a valuable pearl necklace that repeatedly changes hands - eluding the criminals and policemen who realize the necklace's true value, but falling into the hands of penniless characters who believe the pearls are fake and the necklace of little value.

The film's story is fueled with these little ironies. In fact the trajectory of the two main characters is very much in keeping with this central concept of chance happenings and ironic, hopeful, and somewhat playful conclusions. In the beginning the film's main characters are both neighbors who have never met; however, while separately searching for the same thing, money, they find each other, and in the process, something much more rare and valuable.

Several talented people were involved with the making of Roma Citta Libera. The cast features Valentina Cortese who appeared in such films as Mario Bava's The Evil Eye, Jules Dassin's Thieves' Highway and Federico Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits. In Roma Citta Libera Cortese plays a typist who is unable to pay her rent, and facing eviction, believes prostitution her last resort. Her character is complex and well written, and Cortese gives a quietly powerful and expressive performance. In addition the film features Andrea Checchi (also of Mario Bava fame) as a suicidal ex-soldier who returns from the war to find that he has lost everything, and Nando Bruno as the thief who takes the ex-soldier under his wing after saving his life. Also in a smaller, but no less memorable role, is Vittorio De Sica who does a wonderful job playing a wandering amnesiac, who may or may not actually be an important and powerful individual.

The director of Roma Citta Libera, Marcello Pagliero, wrote the script with several screenwriters who went on to work with some of Italy's most prominent directors - writing films like The Bicycle Thief, Nights of Cabiria, The Leopard and 8 1/2. The cinematography for Pagliero's film was ably handled by the talented Aldo Tonti, who worked as the cinematographer on many movies, including Fellini's Nights of Cabiria and Sergio Sollima's Violent City. Lastly, the score for Roma Citta Libera was composed (and later reused in Fellini's excellent I Vitelloni) by the great Nino Rota, best known for his work with Fellini and for his indelible score to The Godfather, and The Godfather: Part II.

NoShame Films brings Roma Citta Libera to DVD with an excellent transfer derived from "the original 35mm vault elements." There is some very slight wear visible during a couple of shots, but apart from this the film looks absolutely outstanding. The mono audio track, which is clear and sounds good, is accompanied by optional English subtitles. The disc's extras include an introduction to the film by screenwriter and assistant director Luigi Filippo D'Amico, who also returns for an interview entitled, A Life in Movies. There is a second interview with film historian Oresto De Fornari, in addition to the original theatrical trailer, and a collectable booklet with biographical information and liner notes. Overall it's a nice presentation for a lovely film that I'm sure many viewers will be happy to discover and revisit.

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