The third and final film in Rossellini’s War Trilogy—the first two films are Rome, Open City and Paisan
Tracking shots of the post WWII ruins in Berlin during the credits with a horror film-like score from Roberto Rossellini’s brother Renzo, we then cut to 13-year old Edmund digging graves— and it only gets worse from there
A plotless film, a pillar (and rightly so) of Italian neorealism that comes out the same year as De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves
Some critics and historians have viewed this film (essentially torturing this German family and boy for 78 minutes) as a sort of Italian revenge film- or payback for the war and the German atrocities. I disagree- I thought it was pretty radical (and humanist) to show the other side and tell the pains of war and the victims story on the other side so quickly after the war (this was just 3 years after V-E day).
After the tracking shots of ruins, the graveyard, we are on the street with people cutting off pieces of a dead horse that died in the street, we have people stealing from our 13 year old protagonist, pedophiles, begging for food on the street—this is hell, a nightmare— nihilistic, lechers everywhere and a family tearing itself apart. You can see the influence on Bunuel’s Los Olvidados (1950), von Trier’s worldview, the Dardenne’s for sure (they carry the neorealism banner yet today)
Until the tragic, unforgettable finale, the toughest scene is the gut-punch scene where young Edmund makes tea for his father
The exteriors were shot in Berlin on location and the interiors in Italy. The exteriors make the film—it is not a masterpiece without the unprecedented backdrop. Calling the landscape Berlin backdrop mise-en-scene, war ruins set-piece, and natural production design —a character in the film– doesn’t come close to doing it justice. It is a major artistic achievement. The greatest example is the shot 65 minutes in of Edmund walking down the path with the wreckage all around here—one of the greatest cinematic images of the 1940’s— David Denby from The New Yorker- “The colossal rubble of Berlin is not just an analogue to the collapse of the social order but an amazing sight, and the movie makes you feel the weight of every smashed facade and fallen stone.”