Available for years in inferior public domain prints and poor video transfers, Robert Rossellini’s influential WW2 trilogy [Rome Open City (1945), Paisan (1946) and German Year Zero (1949)], which firmly established him as the “father of Neorealism”, finally received 4K high-definition digital transfers from The Criterion Collection in 2017. Linked thematically to this trilogy, however, is a later Rossellini film, Era Notte a Roma [English title, Escape by Night aka Blackout in Rome,1960), which, unfortunately, has never enjoyed the reputation or respect of this seminal trilogy. I first saw a 16mm print of the film from Films Inc. years ago when it still licensed titles from The Audio Brandon Collection. I had a chance to revisit Era Notte a Roma again recently on DVD and am still baffled by the movie’s low profile since its original release.Continue reading
At the end of WW2, it was estimated that more than 6 million people had been displaced from their homes and roughly 180,000 of these were children. Some were concentration camp survivors, others were orphaned or separated from their families, hiding in monasteries or living with strangers. There have been a handful of films that dealt with this traumatic situation and Fred Zinnemann’s The Search (1948) is probably the most famous post-war American film on the subject. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and won a special Juvenile Oscar for Ivan Jandl as a homeless kid separated from his Czech mother. Europe also produced some landmark films about displaced children during WW2 including Roberto Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero (1948) and Rene Clement’s Forbidden Games (1952) but Somewhere in Europe aka It Happened in Europe (Hungarian title: Valahol Europaban) from Hungarian director Geza von Radvanyi was one of the first films to address war orphans trying to fend for themselves. Released in 1947, the film is less well known than other post-war dramas from the same period but it is a harrowing portrait of a dire situation affecting Eastern Europe, especially Hungary, during the final days of the war.Continue reading
“The camera eye is more perspicacious and more accurate than the human eye,” French filmmaker Jean Rouch once said, and his idiosyncratic documentaries, which were often fusions of reality and fiction, bear this out. Jaguar (1967) is a perfect example of this duality.Continue reading
“I wanted to do something that reflected the way people in the community would see themselves. Coming from another place, you can see a much larger picture. But when you’re in a well, you can only see the narrow light above. If you’ve been living like that for a long time, it can have an unproductive effect on you in many ways. So it wasn’t my personal conflicts. It was the conflict of the community.” – Director Charles Burnett in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine about his film Killer of Sheep.
After more than 42 years, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977) is now recognized as a seminal film in the indie film movement of the ‘70s even though it didn’t receive a wide release until 2007 via Milestone Films. In fact, Burnett never really intended for the film to have a theatrical release; he made it as his thesis film at UCLA. But retrospective screenings of the film and the resulting critical acclaim culminated in Killer of Sheep winning the Forum of New Cinema prize at the 1981 Berlin International Film Festival. Other accolades followed such as being selected by the National Film Registry in 1990 for film preservation and winning a special award from the New York Film Critics Circle in 2007. Not bad for a movie shot on 16mm and made for a rock bottom budget of $10,000 from film grants. Continue reading
In its own way, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1961 directorial debut Accattone could be seen as the last gasp of the Italian neo-realism movement. It is also a remarkably self-assured first film that blends the lyrical with the sordid in its depiction of life on the outskirts of Rome where pimps, thieves and petty criminals scrounge for a living with little hope of ever escaping their dead-end existence. Based on Pasolini’s second novel, Una Vita Violenta, Accatone successfully launched Pasolini as a film director but also marked the beginning of an acting career for Franco Citti in the title role. What is most interesting is that Una Vita Violenta was again adapted for the screen under that title the following year but it is hardly ever mentioned or revived. Pasolini had no involvement with the production but it did star Franco Citti in the central role of Tommaso, a character similar to Accattone, and the two films would make a fascinating double feature in terms of their contrasting tones and directorial style. Continue reading
The second film collaboration between Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Europe ’51 (1952) might be the most overlooked and misunderstood feature of the famous director-actress team during their turbulent and controversial relationship. Between 1950 and 1955, the couple made five features together and one episode for the five chapter compilation film, We, the Women (1953). Although most film critics seem to regard 1954’s Journey to Italy as their peak achievement, Europe ’51 (aka Europa ’51) received a second chance at reappraisal in September 2013, thanks to The Criterion Collection, which released the film on Blu-Ray and DVD in a set with Stromboli (the first Bergman-Rossellini film from 1950) and Journey to Italy (aka Viaggio in Italia, 1953) . Continue reading
Gillo Pontecorvo began as a documentarian and his interest in social and political issues was already evident in early works like Giovanni (1955), which follows a textile laborer and her female co-workers through punishing work conditions into a full-blown protest against the factory owners. So it comes as no surprise that his first feature length film, The Wide Blue Road (aka La Grande Strada Azzurra, 1957), has an underlying social agenda even if it looks like a slice-of-life melodrama on the surface. Continue reading