Of the greatest filmmakers, the one I know the least about is Roberto Rossellini. Today, I had a chance to view his Europa 51 (1952) and found it to be a masterpiece. For some reason, the great postwar Italian films (dubbed Neorealism) have, for some reason, faded from view. Included were films by Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, Giuseppe De Santis, and Roberto Rossellini.
The films I have seen by Rossellini dealt with the fragility of life in Italy as part of the aftermath of the Second World War. And, when you think of it, the problems for Italy really began in the early 1920s with the rise of Fascism and Benito Mussolini. By 1945, it was an exhausted nation.
In Europa 51, the Girards have a sullen twelve-year-old son who, to get attention, falls down a flight of stairs during a party. He seems to be recovering, but suddenly dies from a blood clot. The mother, Irene (Ingrid Bergman) suddenly finds her life at home as totally unfulfilling. With urging from a communist relative, she begins to try to help the miserable slum dwellers of Rome, one of whom is played by Giulietta Masina of La Strada fame.
As her marriage begins to fall apart, she gets committed to a mental institution. Abandoned by her upper middle class family, she is revered by the poor families she has helped.
Whereas in the United States, the postwar period saw growth and prosperity, much of Europe lay in ruins. Beginning with Rome, Open City (1945), Rossellini concentrated on the devastation with some films like Paisan (1946), Germany, Year Zero (1948), and Stromboli (1950). I think these films need to be seen, especially as we have developed a whole basket of myths surrounding World War Two and “The Greatest Generation” and other such rot.
If you were to read Tony Judt’s prizewinning history, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, you would find that he begins with the horrors of the immediate postwar years in Europe. I was born in 1945, and I remember my mother sending packages to our relatives in Hungary, which were under a Stalinist Communist dictator in the early 1950s. When I visited Budapest in 1945, I saw a city that still had the bullet holes of not only the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, but the Nazi siege of the city at the end of the war.