Academic journal article Italica

Pina's Pregnancy, Traumatic Realism, and the After-Life of Open City

Academic journal article Italica

Pina's Pregnancy, Traumatic Realism, and the After-Life of Open City

Article excerpt

This study attempts to account for the haunting power and the enduring legacy of the most wrenching shot-sequence in Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City. I am speaking of the scene in which Pina is felled by Nazi gun fire as she chases after the truck carrying Francesco and his comrades seized during the raid on their tenement building in Rome's Prenestino neighborhood. This scene, whose power to shock and disrupt remains unabated over the years, even when audiences are amply forewarned of the serial deaths that will be visited upon Open City's resistance characters, has come to transcend its narrative context and to stand, by synecdoche, for the entire cinematic movement which Rossellini's film was credited with founding. The iconic power of the scene was in evidence at the 1995 Cinecitta exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Italian cinema, where a video loop was entirely dedicated to its continuous replay. In that same year, Carlo Lizzani devoted a feature film, entitled Celluloide, to recreating the production of Open City (a choice of subject matter that elevated the making of a film to the status of a primary historical event, on the order of a military battle, a legislative triumph, or a major political scandal), in which the shooting and editing of Pina's death scene was given pride of place. (1) Perhaps the strongest argument for the iconic power of this scene is the commemorative stamp, issued by the Italian government to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of WWII, which featured the image of Pina's death as the defining emblem of war. To underline the synecdochal value of that image, a caption beneath it read "Il cinema neorealista" and below that label, "Italia." Several years later, Ettore Scola made a brilliant short film entitled '43-'97, featuring a young Jewish boy who escapes the Nazi round-up of the Roman ghetto by hiding in a movie-house, where he views a montage of films in which Pina's death scene stands as the first example of postwar Italian cinematic achievement. (2) Within the fiction of Scola's short film, of course, the young Jewish boy's escape from Nazi persecution sets up an ironic counterpoint to Pina's fate in the wake of the German assault on her tenement, but the message is nonetheless one of survival--it affirms the undying power of a single shot sequence to conjure up an entire era, both historical and cinematographic, and to inspire generations of filmmakers who will venerate and develop that legacy.

Before making his own sequel to Open City in the narrative of Mamma Roma (to be analyzed farther on), Pasolini was to enshrine his account of Pina's death scene in verses rich with promise for our own study of film and collective memory. The poem in question, "Continuazione della serata a San Michele," recalls the second part of an odyssey that had begun in Trastevere and concludes in an outdoor cinema in the San Michele district near Testaccio. (3) "Subito entro: scosso da un interno clamore/deciso a tremare nel ricordo" Pasolini writes of the emotions generated by the worn-out poster that had enticed him into the arena. Before the film even begins, then, Pasolini is in a heightened state of psychic preparedness, primed for what Jameson calls the "nostalgia mode of reception" (4) by the poster's image of "il caldo viso ovale dell'eroina" that offers such a striking contrast to the "grige persone" gathered to watch the film in the "arena senza vita." "Subito," he repeats several lines later, "alle prime inquadrature/ mi travolge e rapisce.... l'intermittence/du coeur." The sudden intrusion of this French phrase with its reference to the involuntary memory of Proust enacts grammatically the very experience it describes. The poet is indeed the passive object of a process of evocation that he cannot control: he is abducted by memory. "Mi trovo nelle scure vie della memoria e nelle stanze/misteriose dove l'uomo fisicamente e altro." Kidnapped and led along streets and into rooms on the movie screen, the poet is simultaneously taken on a journey along memory traces embedded deep within his psyche. …

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