Paisan (Paisà)

Director: Roberto Rossellini
Screenplay: Sergio Amidei, Klaus Mann, Federico Fellini, Marcello Pagliero, Alfred Hayes, and Roberto Rossellini
Stars: Carmela Sazio (Carmela), Robert Van Loon (Joe, first episode), Dots M. Johnson (Joe, second episode), Maria Michi (Francesca), Gar Moore (Fred), Harriet White (Harriet), Renzo Avanzo (Massimo), Bill Tubbs (Captain Bill Martin), Father Vincenzo Carrella (The Friar Guardian), Dale Edmonds (Dale)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1946
Country: Italy
Paisan Blu-ray
PaisanPaisan (Paisà), Roberto Rossellini’s follow-up to his groundbreaking and internationally acclaimed neorealist masterpiece Rome Open City (1945), works much of the same terrain while also extending and elaborating his aesthetic preoccupations on a much grander narrative scale. While the previous film was firmly rooted in a specific location, Paisan is a moving geographic fresco, taking us slowly northward through the Italian peninsula as six different wartime vignettes unfold—some comical, some tragic, but all deeply humane. The film also differs quite substantially from its predecessor in terms of production, as Rome Open City was made on a shoestring and shot on scraps of discordant celluloid while Paisan was funded almost entirely by Rod Geiger (an American soldier stationed in Rome who had helped get Rome Open City distributed in the U.S.) and shot on high-quality Kodak film stock. Nevertheless, even if the images are sharper and more consistent, Rossellini effectively maintains the rough-hewn, in-the-streets feel of neorealism, and in its best moments Paisan feels like something captured, rather than something produced.

The film begins in Sicily and moves steadily northward with each succeeding story, thus reflecting the actual path of the Allied liberation of Italy starting in 1943. Each of the film’s narratively unrelated vignettes begins with actual newsreel footage and narration that situates it within the larger context of World War II, and each takes place in an important locale: Sicily, Naples, Rome, Florence, the Appenine Range, and finally Porte Tolle in the Po delta. The fact that half of these are urban and half are rural reflects Italy’s varied spaces and also gives Rossellini a much wider canvas on which to stage his drama. While he did something similar in Rome Open City in terms of shifting from claustrophobic interiors to wide open spaces within the city, Paisan reflects a profound elaboration of neorealism’s emphasis on physical location.

Although Paisan is an episodic film, with each of the stories featuring completely different characters who are not connected to characters in any of the other stories, the film is tightly bound together by the theme of communication. Unlike Rome Open City, Paisan is not about the Italians’ battle with the occupying Germans; instead it is about their tenuous relationship with the liberating American soldiers. Just as the film’s stories gradually move northward up the peninsula, so too does each story increase the level of communication and understanding between the Italians and the Americans.

This binding theme is reflected in the film’s title, which is a term used to refer to someone from your own village. In essence, Rossellini is saying that the Americans, the foreign “others,” became part of Italy during the liberation, which we see quite explicitly in the progress of the stories, as the film begins with cautious American soldiers and distrusting Sicilians unable to fully communicate and ends with American officers collaborating and dying side-by-side with Italian partisans, which is why the film’s otherwise tragic ending is actually a paean to cooperation and respect. Rossellini makes the back-and-forth of cultural clash and eventual understanding into a profound statement about the nature of human interaction and solidarity, and even if the film is hampered at times by somewhat hammy acting (the Americans sometimes sound and act too much like a European’s clichéd idea of what Americans sound and act like), it is rarely anything less than deeply moving.

Paisan Criterion Collection Blu-ray
Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy Blu-ray Box SetPaisan is available exclusively as part of the three-disc “Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy” box set (SRP $99.95), which also includes Rome Open City (1945) and Germany Year Zero (1948).
Aspect Ratio1.37:1
AudioItalian Linear PCM 1.0 monaural
Subtitles English
Supplements
  • Video introduction by Roberto Rossellini from 1963
  • Video interview with Rossellini scholar Adriano Aprà
  • Excerpts from videotaped discussions Rossellini had in 1970 with faculty and students at Rice University
  • “Into the Future,” visual essay by film scholar Tag Gallagher
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    SRP$99.95 (box set)
    Release DateJuly 11, 2017

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    All three films in Criterion’s “War Trilogy” Blu-ray boxset have been given new, high-definition transfers that improve upon the already impressive DVD boxset they released back in 2010. That release made these important films, which previously were difficult if not impossible to find in anything other than awful condition, widely available to American viewers; Rome Open City and Paisan had been available in Region 1 in less-than-stellar DVD releases from Image, but Germany Year Zero had been MIA on DVD and had never been seen in the U.S. in its original version with German opening titles and a German-language soundtrack. Criterion has stepped up again, with each film getting a new digital restoration from improved sources: Rome Open City in 4K from the original 35mm camera negative and a 35mm fine-grain positive preserved at the Cineteca Nazionale in Rome; Paisan in 2K from a 35mm fine-grain positive preserved at the Cineteca Nazionale; and Germany Year Zero in high-definition from a 35mm fine-grain positive. The results are simply outstanding; although they still bear the gritty look of neorealism and there are some inconsistencies and flicker, the images are sharper and more detailed than we’ve ever seen, with most of the print damage, dirt, and debris having been digitally removed (some damage simply could not be fixed without doing further harm, but none of it is distracting). Contrast also looks better, with deeper blacks and improved shadow detail. The Blu-ray set also remedies the one complaint about the 2010 DVDs, which is that the films were all pictureboxed. All three soundtracks were mastered in 24-bit from the corresponding optical soundtracks from the 35mm prints (Rome Open City comes from the optical soundtrack negative) and digitally restored. Presented in Linear PCM monaural, they sound quite good, especially given their age and limited technology of the time. Rossellini preferred postsynchronization, rather than recording dialogue live, so the soundtracks (with the exception of Germany Year Zero, which was one of only three films that Rossellini recorded live) sometimes appear a bit awkward in terms of not being perfectly in step with the image.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    Criterion’s Blu-ray maintains all of the supplements that originally appeared on their 2010 DVD. They begin with a brief introduction to the film by Roberto Rossellini that was recorded for Italian television in 1963. Rossellini also appears in rarely seen videotaped discussions he had in 1970 with faculty and students at Rice University, which offer a unique glimpse into the filmmaker’s art. While there is no audio commentary, there is an informative video interview with Rossellini scholar Adriano Aprà, who discusses the film and its relationship to Rossellini’s other films, and “Into the Future,” an excellent half-hour visual essay by film scholar Tag Gallagher (author of The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini: His Life and Films) that explores all three films in the War Trilogy. Each film gets about 10 minutes of acute visual and thematic analysis that illustrates just how complex they are.

    Copyright © 2017 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (3.5)



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