February 28, 1946 [Roma, città aperta/Rome, Open City]

At the end of Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, the children walk back to Rome, their heads down, arms around each other. They’ve just seen their priest executed by the Nazis and their Fascist lackeys. But the children do not quite trudge; they seem almost to be marching.

This air of resistance lies at the core of the film--not simple, clean victory, not the heroic repulsion of the invader. After all, the principals do not survive. They are gunned down in the street, tortured, left lifeless on the bare floor. What matters is their faces before they die, filled with love and defiance, beautiful, solid, Italian faces—Anna Magnani in particular, in love with freedom, hard-bitten but not stern; she is like something out of Roman legend, her profile like a Caesar’s. I could not stop myself from tears when she died, pursuing the van that takes away Manfredi--who will be tortured to death--her body splayed on the street, her son flinging himself on her.

Rossellini gives me the only postscript to the War I want. I can barely consider the last moments in Japan, the atomic hand wiping clean, the Theory of Relativity conspiring to put us at our ease--but leaving fires that will not die. Everyone wanted to resist--the Japanese as well as the Italians--and the Poles at the start, with the Czechs and then the British, down to Africa and Over Here. Like the atomic scientists, we sought power to ensure victory. And now we get to turn our fearful eyes toward the Russians, and resist again.

All I want is to forget the end, to march home with those children, sad because good people are gone--are treated like trash and must be remembered; but again: I do not want to remember the real end, the necessary victory soaked in bloody ashes, the World being carved into new pieces, the line still drawn between those who want to do right and those who want only to win.


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