Paisan (1946)

 

 

 

Director:     Roberto Rossellini

Starring:     Carmela Sazio (Carmela, episode I), Robert Van Loon ( Joe, the American soldier, episode I), Benjamin Emanuel(An American soldier, episode I), Raymond Campbell (An American soldier, episode I), Harold Wagner (Harry, an American soldier, episode I), Albert Heinze (An American soldier, episode I), Merlin Berth (Merlin, an American soldier, episode I), Mats Carlson (Swede, an American soldier, episode I), Leonard Parrish (An American soldier, episode I), Dots Johnson (American MP, episode II), Alfonsino Pasca (the boy, episode II), Maria Michi (Francesca, episode III), Gar Moore (Fred, an American soldier, episode III), Harriet Medin (Harriet, episode IV), Renzo Avanzo (Massimo, episode IV)

a heart-breaking look at the last days of German Occupation of Italy during World War II

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

The Allies forces invade Sicily.  A small group of American soldiers look into a church filled with Italians to see if any Germans are hiding within.  They learn that the Germans left in the morning and went north.  The Americans decide to send a group out to see if they can find out where exactly are the Germans.  One of the young Italian women volunteers to show them the way.  She volunteers because she wants to look for her father and brother who are both missing.  The young woman leads them to an old fortress.  There they leave the woman with a soldier named Joe and the rest head out to find the Germans.  Joe tries to talk with the Italian girl.  He lights up a cigarette and this is seen by German troops in the area.  They fire at the light and kill Joe.  They then head over to the fortress.  The Italian girl picks up Joe's weapon and starts to fire on the Germans.  The Germans overpower her and throw her off the fortress to her death on the cliffs below.  They then vacate the area before the American troops return. 

Naples falls on October 1.  The poor Italian boys try hustling to try to get some money.  One young fellow finds a drunken black military policeman and decides to try to take advantage of him.  When the MP sits down and falls to sleep, the kid steals his shoes.  Later the black MP runs into the thief.  He is really mad and tries to take the kid to his parents to see him punished.  They travel to a real shanty town with dirt poor Italians.  The boy explains that his parents were killed in the Allied bombings.  The MP realizes what the kid is up against, decides to leave him alone and drives off in his jeep. 

The Allies land at Anzio and open new paths to Rome.  The Germans withdraw.  The Americans come into Rome.

Six months later.  Two Italian women get into a brawl in a bar filled with American GIs.  The military police descend on the place and everyone tries to make a run for it.  One of the female brawlers gets away.  She then picks up a somewhat drunk GI and brings him to her place.  The woman tries to interest the soldier but he can only talk about a sweet young Italian girl named Francesca who he met early on in Rome.  The woman tries to arrange a meeting between Francesca and the soldier, but for some reason the soldier thinks it's hopeless.  Francesca shows up at the meeting place, but the American soldier never shows. 

The Americans work their way to Florence.  North of the Arno River the Italian partisans are fighting the Germans and the Italian Fascists.  A man named Lupo is the leader of the partisans and has become somewhat of a local legend.  An American nurse known as Harriet finds out about Lupo.  She remembers him fondly from the time she lived in Florence as a young woman.  She decides to try to head into Florence proper to see if she can find him.  She runs into an Italian friend who is also trying to get into Florence.  He tells her he has to find his family.  She decides to accompany him.  On their journey she discovers that Lupo has been wounded.  They also learn that there is a passage into the area held by the partisans through the Uffizi gallery.  The Germans are all over the area beyond the gallery.  Harriet and her friend, not discouraged, push on.  They are lucky and run into the partisans before they run into the Germans.  Harriet's friend rushes across a dangerous street and just misses being killed.  But a partisan who tries to help him is shot.  Harriet is able to run to the wounded partisan to help him.  From the wounded soldier she learns that Lupo is dead.  She is crushed.  

The battle reaches near the Po Valley area.  Each village in the area has to be taken separately.  In one location the priests ring the monastery bells to celebrate their recent liberation from the Germans.  Three American chaplains arrive.  One knows Italian well, which is a great help to the other two chaplains.  The priests are very happy to provide them with lodging and food.  But then they learn that while the Italian speaking chaplain is Catholic, the other two chaplains are Lutheran and Jewish respectively.  The priests become very upset about this news.  One priest prays for God's protection from the two non-Catholic clergymen.  They regard the two chaplains as lost souls.  This attitude is a very strange and upsetting to the American Catholic chaplain.  He tries to explain to the priests that he would never try to convert his two friends because all three feel they have the truth and the right way.  But the priests decide to fast while the Americans eat their supper in hopes that God will grant them special favor with the two non-Catholic chaplains. 

The area north of the Po Valley is largely German territory.  About the only Allied forces in the area are some Italian partisans, some American members of the O.S.S. and a few members of British intelligence.  They, however, suddenly receive orders to cease all actions in the area.  The partisans are to be send home.  They don't really understand the reasons but they try to comply with their new orders.  But before the Allied forces can retire from the area they are met with three German gunboats which attack them.  The Allied forces put up a brave fight but they are outmanned and outgunned.  Many are killed and the others have to surrender.  The Americans and British prisoners of war are very worried about their partisan allies because the Germans do not recognize the partisans as soldiers.  They insist that the partisans are outlaws.  The Americans and British are extremely upset to see the Germans push the tied up partisans off a boat into the water where they drown. 

The winter of 1944 gives way to the spring of 1945 and the war finally comes to an end. 

 

My wife and I did not think much of the movie.  My wife said it was just a series of little snippets here and there that were too short and too unsatisfying.  The snippets were tied together with the barest of narrative about the progress of the Allied troops against the Germans in Italy.  I basically agree.  We both also agreed that the acting was pretty poor.  But I was happy to see that someone dealt with the Italian campaign beyond the taking of Rome.  I have not seen this in other movies.  For this I am grateful. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:

 

 

 

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