So yay, it’s another Italian neorealism film by Roberto Rossellini, and this time, he doesn’t have the few years of film evolution or his star Ingrid Bergman for me to appreciate. Please, someone restrain me and hold me back, or my excitement may threaten to dislodge some important bone structure in my body. This one, Paisan, is the direct follow-up to Open City, chronologically and thematically, so the film already has a few points off it in my book. Thankfully, and surprisingly, it made up those points and then some. Now, it wasn’t so outstanding that it blew away all my doubts and reservations about Italian neorealism; I doubt any neorealist film could do that for me at this point. But I was able to sit through the entire thing quite easily, and even found myself entertained mildly by the film, which I think is more than I can say about any other Italian neorealist film I’ve seen.
First off, the film is a war film that takes place during WWII, which had ended only the previous year, so kudos to Rossellini for being brash enough to get this film made in the time period he made it in, especially with Americans in the cast. The film is actually split up into six sections, each with its own complete tale. That right there, however, is one of the first flaws with Paisan that I found; while each of the six stories is complete, with a beginning, middle, and end, most of the action or development of the story is truncated greatly to fit all six into a roughly two-hour running time. The first story, for instance, has an American private spending time with an Italian woman; he is soon shot by a German sniper, and she reacts visibly to his death, her eyes wet with tears. They didn’t spend nearly enough time together for her to develop any level of feelings towards the man, let along outright love or even camaraderie, and it makes the story somewhat unbelievable as a result. There were bits of this truncated storytelling all throughout each of the six stories, and I couldn’t help but feel that the film would’ve been better serviced had it dropped one or two of the stories to make more proper room for the others. The acting of the Americans in the first segment stood out for me as being particularly horrendous; they stood there and spouted their lines start to finish, as if they were wooden blocks. Thankfully, the acting of the foreign-language actors was a little more convincing, and the African-American soldier in segment two was fairly believable as well.
Even though the individual stories themselves suffered somewhat as a result of so many of them being crammed into this one film, I’m at least a little thankful that there were six different stories instead of just one or two. It kept my attention a lot easier than it otherwise would’ve; when my attention span was threatening to fall out, the story would end, and I’d be brought into a new one to capture my attention. Now, some people (dare I say, most?) will be a little miffed at the fluctuating storyline, having to drop one story when the next one comes along, but me being the antithesis of a fan of neorealism, it was a useful narrative device to keep me involved in the film. As for the film itself, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t as neorealist as I had expected, or at least not as much as Open City or Bicycle Thieves. For one, there’s music, which heightens the drama into occasional melodrama territory, and melodrama is pretty much the opposite of neorealism. Perhaps that’s why this was an especially easy watch for me, that and the segmented stories. I don’t know if I would call this a must see, but I can certainly recommend you give it a try, even (and perhaps especially) if you’re not a fan of neorealism like me.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10