Paisan Screen 10 articles



Paisan Poster
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    The Nation: James Agee
    April 24, 1948 | Agee on Film (p. 299)

    The director, Roberto Rossellini, is being overrated by most people, underrated by some. I see no signs of originality in his work; a sickening lack of mental firmness, of fundamental moral aliveness, and of taste; but at his best an extremely vigorous talent for improvisation, for naturalistic poetry, and for giving the illsuion of the present tense.

  • The episodes all seem to have an anecdotal triteness... but each acquires a wholly unexpected naturalness and depth of feeling from Rossellini's refusal to hype the anecdotes with conventional dramatic rhetoric. The concluding episodes... is one of Rossellini's most sublime accomplishments, a largely wordless sequence that uses shifting focal lengths, drifting camera movements, and natural sounds to create a suspense of almost unbearable intensity and immediacy.

  • Paisà’s realism consists in reflecting the unbridgeable gap between humanity and the real; its humanism in recognising and displaying the suffering this gap condemns humanity to. If, as Rossellini says, he hates “beautiful shots”, it is because they turn the facts of the world into a source of comfort or pleasure or comprehension for us, in a way that denies the impassive fact of the world itself.

  • Any simple description of Paisan would make it sound both miserable and despairing, but the verve of the stories and the sense of the camera finding realities as yet unseen actually make it one of the most inspiring and energizing of films.

  • Though Paisan is as much a synthesis of different forms and styles as Open City, the multipart construction of the narrative hides the seams better, paradoxically giving the entire work a greater sense of unity. The conclusions of most of the stories are grim—communication breaks down, hope gives way to despair, the enemy takes the upper hand—but the film is shot through with flashes of moral illumination and mutual understanding, fleeting moments of connection and compassion.

  • The overriding theme is communication, both the tragedies that occur when it breaks down and the connections possible when people from different cultures understand each other. Several segments take the form of war adventures, too, but Rossellini’s camera persists on catching unforgettable horrors, like the bodies of dead partisans set adrift on the Po River.

  • To Roberto Rossellini, war is the ordeal that pushes to extremes the chaos inherent within human beings... An aquatic void fills the final shot -- following the nightmare, a nation ponders the depths as it struggles to lift its head.

  • If De Sica's films, for example, are directly a product of the surrounding rubble and poverty, Rossellini's themes in PAISAN—miscommunication, perspective, loneliness—stretch so far outside the military and socioeconomic context that at times it is the characters who seem to birth the stark ruin around them, a collapsed Tower of Babel.

  • The roughness of Paisan (the acting, writing, and one hilariously obvious continuity error) proposes that sincerity, morality, and relevance are far more important than any notion of professional polish. On that scale, this string of episodes and encounters is remarkable to this day, a patchwork of a moment in time and the forerunner to the Babel school of social realism. And still richer than any of them.

  • There was nothing artless about Rossellini's moviemaking. The first, third, and fifth chapters are carefully fashioned in their lighting and subtle, quietly mobile camerawork, flickers of poetic and spiritual depth allowed to subsist in the lighting caressing the faces of Joe and Carmela and Fred and Francesca, or pooling in the monastery’s corners, and the chiaroscuro battles of light and dark that confirm the influence of the pre-war poetic realists on Rossellini.

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