An External Analysis of Rome, Open City using Burke’s Pentad

Earlier I discussed the Italian Neorealism movement in film and the theories that made up the movement. I thought it would be more fitting to analyze a movie of the era rather than the words of an idealistic theoretician. Of the films that originated in Italy from 1944 to 1952, Rome, Open City was by far the most impactful, long-lasting work of art; it has influenced filmmakers around the world to this day. Since this rhetorical artifact is not the traditional speech or article, I’m going to conduct my analysis using the pentadic method of criticism, which has 5 indentifiers (much like the journalistic 5Ws): Act, Scene, Agent, Agency, Purpose. This method is much more flexible and therefore more easily applicable to the artifact I chose, and will reveal the level of influence the film had on the movie industry.

*Note: The Pentadic method of criticism is used to examine an artifact internally by identifying the pentad within the act, or the who/what/when/where/why/how of the speech, film, etc. In this instance, I identified the pentad on a larger scale, taking in context clues from the world outside the film in order to draw a conclusion. Here‘s another post applying Burke’s Pentad the way it’s meant to be used.

The film itself constitutes as the act, released in 1945 only three weeks after World War II officially ended. Its genesis lies in the combination of two projects that Rossellini agreed to take on for an elderly, wealthy, Roman lady: a documentary on a priest who was shot for assisting the Italian partisan movement and a documentary about the child gangs who fought against German occupiers.

Written by Sergei Amidei and Federico Fellini (two of the Italian Neorealist greats), the film artfully combined the two topics and created an intensely emotional call-to-action for all audiences.

The agency is the filmmaking industry, the agent Rossellini, but more important is the purpose: to immortalize in film the true stories of real people suffering through the German occupation in Italy and to persuade people to open their eyes to the real dramas unfolding in their lives every day.

The act and agency are limited in their inherent duality: art versus business. Yes, filmmakers want to make films with meaning and artistic integrity, but their message won’t reach anyone if the don’t attract attention; how do you attract audience’s attention? Dramatic situations, compelling stories, and familiar, empathy-inducing characters.

Many inflexibly traditional neorealist films, such as those created by the De Sica-Zavattini directing-writing team, feature simple narratives that revolve around the daily activities of one or two characters. The development of these stories mirrors their subtle cinematic style: basic camera movements, natural lighting, and invisible edits. Such films, although they stay true to the philosophies of Italian Neorealism, did not find financial success or broad audience appeal. Therefore they weren’t as successful, rhetorically, as Rome, Open City, whose dramatic narrative follows the more traditional Hollywood filmmaking style, which appeals to a commercial audience.

Looking at the pentad specific to this artifact–Rome, post-war Italy, Rossellini, film industry, social awareness and responsibility–it’s clear that the dominant indentifier that drives the artifact is purpose, within the context of scene. The purpose is to relay information in the form of art via a melodrama that looks like a documentary.


2 thoughts on “An External Analysis of Rome, Open City using Burke’s Pentad

  1. Wonderfully written, and you dissect the subject with the skill of a surgeon. I wonder if your concluding statement about the “purpose is to relay information in the form of art” doesn’t quite reach to the intent of the makers of this film. I have not seen “Rome” but from what you describe, isn’t the purpose to awaken the audience’s conscious to the dangers of external control of individual freedom, using post WW2 Italy as a real-life example, not a make-believe movie?

  2. Pingback: “The Bicycle Thief” – A Narrative Analysis | Evyn Davis

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