To Roberto Rossellini, war is the ordeal that pushes to extremes the chaos inherent within human beings. Italy between the summer of 1943 and the winter of 1944, the rubble from the vantage point of bewildered G.I. Joes. A Sicilian peasant (Carmela Sazio) and an American grunt (Robert Van Loon) share an extended take inside a cave, with the muddle of suspicion ("You people with guns are all the same!") giving way to perilous illumination (the soldierís lit match elucidates a family photograph and attracts a German bullet). In the Neapolitan black-market, a soused MP (Dots Johnson) boxes marionettas, perches himself on a bombed-out junkyard and, in a mini-movie within a mini-movie, pantomimes his tale to an orphaned little scavenger (Alfonsino Pasca). Elsewhere, Rome since the liberation has become such a swing-scored Gomorrah that the shy Yankee conqueror (Gar Moore) doesnít realize that the lass walking the streets (Maria Michi) had six months earlier welcomed him chastely, a sort of rebuke of Minnelliís The Clock. Florence under fire finds a culture at its most depredated, fascist snipers on the roof and documentary views of the Uffizi gallery in pieces, "itís the end of the world." As a nurse (Harriet Medin) and a resistance member (Renzo Avanzo) make their way across the city, thereís a fleeting glimpse of Giulietta Masina, an oddly funny shot of British officers on the meadow, and the startling point-blank shooting of collaborators. The Franciscan intermezzo is a bit of calm between explosions, a gentle joke ("A Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew walk into a monastery...") complete with Fellini gags (the monkís fulsome blessing of a Hershey bar). It all leads to the Po Valley, with American and partisan together in the marsh. An improvised burial, the slaughter of the family, a weirdly soft-faced Nazi commander exalting the "new civilization," the round-up and execution: everything is chillingly blunt, doggedly unsentimental, emotionally overwhelming. An aquatic void fills the final shot -- following the nightmare, a nation ponders the depths as it struggles to lift its head. Cinematography by Otello Martelli. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce