In order to draw significance from the narrative of a classic film of the Italian Neorealism movement, I will use the 5Ws and an H (Who, What, When/Where, Why, and How) that journalists use when writing articles–otherwise known as the Pentad, as detailed in Kenneth Burke’s A Grammar of Motives. First, let me lay out the plot:
Rome, Open City is about a handful of Italian patriots resisting the German occupation in 1944 in the hopes of returning their native country to its former independence. Giorgio Manfredi (aka Luigi Ferraris) is the resistance leader who spends the majority of the film trying to escape capture by the Gestapo, before getting captured and tortured to death while refusing to give up resistance information. His ally, Don Pietro Pelligrini, works with the patriots as a courier of information and packages and looks after a group of local boys. Marcello leads this child gang, the son of widowed Pina and her fiancé Francesco, a typist and friend of Manfredi’s.
Several archetypal characters oppose the featured rebels:
Major Bergman: an effeminate, heartless Nazi with no qualms regarding torture; his motive is to capture resistance leaders and torture information out of them in order to crush the rebellion; he carries out this torture to the point of murder
Ingrid: a sleazy, cold lieutenant who manipulates and bribes information out of corruptible girls
Marina: Manfredi’s girlfriend; one such “corruptible girl” who betrays Manfredi’s whereabouts for money, drugs, and material possessions
Police Commissioner: Italian native who helps the Gestapo leader locate patriots
Captain Hartman: the ultimate soldier; carries out orders sans compassion, regardless of his personal opinion about the army’s motives and actions; in charge of executing Don Pietro
Through analyzing dialogue and characters’ actions, we can form two general statements about the opposing factions in Rome.
1) The patriots, the good guys, are common people of strong faith in God who are dedicated to their justified cause to the point of self-sacrifice.
Dialogue between Don Pietro, Pina, and Francesco advocates placing faith in God before all things, staying true to the principles of Christian humanism (helping the downtrodden), and trusting in the inevitable victory of a just cause (one that frees a nation’s people from persecution). In the third act of the film, Manfredi stays true to his cause, even though it costs him his life; Don Pietro refuses to crack, in honor of Manfredi’s noble sacrifice, and he is executed. The resistance’s burden, and hope of victory, is then transferred over to Marcello and his faithful gang of kids, who witness Pietro’s execution.
2) The bad guys are not only Nazis, but upper-class Italians that value money and material things over loyalty to their country and their native people.
There’s an obvious lack of faith and Christian principles in the antagonistic characters: no humility, compassion, or generosity, only greed, cruelty, and pride.
We have now identified the Agents (characters) within the film, the Acts of resistance and torture they commit, the Scene (setting) of fascist, WWII Italy within which the story takes place, and the Agency’s that allow the Agents to carry out their Acts (tactics of the Italian patriot resistance and the Gestapo). The last element of Kenneth Burke’s Pentad is Purpose. Why did Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, and Roberto Rossellini (writers and director) choose to build the plot and construct characters in that particular way?
Motive can be drawn most significantly from analysis of the Act-Agency ratio. The Scene is unique to wartime occupation in Italy, and the characters are archetypal and therefore universal, but the theme can be drawn from an examination of what the characters were trying to do and how they attempted to succeed.
In the first and second acts of the film, characters attempted to get a leg up on the Gestapo by setting off bombs wherever there was a concentration of German soldiers. In the third act, the two main characters resist the Gestapo not through violence, but by refusing to renounce their faith, their cause, and their people, even at the cost of their lives. That’s the message that they indirectly imparted to the children, the hope of the future. Both the score and the sweeping panorama of Rome with the children in the foreground implied that hope was not yet lost.
Previous dialogue exchanges and the rebels failed attempts at guerilla warfare underscore the importance of faith, humility, and courage in the face of death. The message can thus be extracted as such: Don’t give up, believe in a cause that’s dedicated to liberty, and don’t stop fighting oppressive forces.