Paisan (1946, Roberto Rossellini)

Middle of R.R.’s war trilogy, six episodes about different wartime encounters with (mostly?) Americans. The movie’s subject is that “war is an epidemic that sweeps up everyone in its path,” sayeth the TV narrator. A pretty active and mobile camera, and big noisy music by brother Renzo. Fellini was co-writer and assistant director. A whole bunch of writers, including Alfred Hayes (later Clash By Night and Human Desire) who might account for the surprisingly not-bad English dialogue.

A couple of misunderstandings. U.S. soldiers come to town, recruit a local girl to lead them over the mine-laced lava path. Joe stays in a building with her while the others go ahead. Nazis wander in as Joe is connecting with the girl despite their language barrier, shoot Joe then toss her off the cliff. When the Americans return, they assume the traitorous Italian girl killed their friend then ran off.

Black American soldier hangs out with kid, drunkenly assaults a puppet show, gets his shoes stolen, later comes after the kid to reclaim his shoes but leaves empty-handed, shocked to realize that the kids live in rubble, their parents dead from the bombings. It’s practically a Germany Year Zero prequel.

This and the previous episode give the impression that there were about 200 people in wartime Italy. Very easy to find someone you’re looking for in the streets, or to run into an old acquaintance. Kind of a cheesy episode, a soldier sleeping with some lowlife whore (Maria Michi, the drug-addled turncoat in Rome Open City), telling her dreamily about this perfect upright Italian girl he met before the war, wishing he could meet her again and marry her – of course they are the same girl. Interesting, the Allies shown as liberating heroes, then as witnesses to (or, more likely, causers of) Italy’s immediate post-liberation decline into poverty and desperation.

Nurse Harriet Medin (later in Blood and Black Lace and The Horrible Dr. Hichcock) enlists headstrong dude named Massimo (Renzo Avanzo, later a co-writer of The Golden Coach) trying to get into zone the rebels (partisans) control, only for her to find out her man, now leader of the locals, died that morning. The most action-packed fighting scenes of the movie.

This was a favorite. Three American chaplains visit a monastery, are welcomed happily until the monks find out one is a protestant and one a jew, then commence praying and fasting in hopes that the two can be saved.

The most typically propagandistic of the episodes, showing Italian partisans, British and American soldiers helping each other and fighting together, while Nazis kill peaceful villagers then capture our heroes and murder them all. A downbeat, defeated finale, ending in death like the other two movies in the War Trilogy.