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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • 1.37:1 Standard
  • Italian PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 3 Discs
FEATURES
  • Video introduction by Roberto Rossellini from 1963
  • Audio commentary featuring film scholar Peter Bondanella
  • Once Upon a Time . . . ďRome Open City,Ē a 2006 documentary on the making of this historic film, featuring rare archival material and footage of Anna Magnani, Federico Fellini, Ingrid Bergman, and many others
  • New video interviews with Rossellini scholar Adriano Aprŗ
  • Rossellini and the City, a new visual essay by film scholar Mark Shiel (Italian Neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City) on Rosselliniís use of the urban landscape in the war trilogy
  • New video interview with film critic and Rossellini friend Father Virgilio Fantuzzi, who discusses the filmmaker and the role of religion in Rome Open City
  • Video introduction by Roberto Rossellini from 1963
  • New video interview with Rossellini scholar Adriano Aprŗ
  • Excerpts from rarely seen videotaped discussions Roberto Rossellini had in 1970 with faculty and students at Rice University about his craft
  • Into the Future, a new visual essay about the War Trilogy by film scholar Tag Gallagher
  • Video introduction by Roberto Rossellini from 1963
  • The Italian release opening credits and voice-over prologue
  • Roberto Rossellini, a 2001 documentary by Carlos Lizzani, assistant director on Germany Year Zero, tracing Rosselliniís career through archival footage and interviews with family members and collaborators, with tributes by filmmakers FranÁois Truffaut and Martin Scorsese
  • Letters from the Front: Carlos Lizzani on ďGermany Year Zero,Ē a podium discussion with Lizzani from the 1987 Tutto Rossellini conference
  • New video interview with Rossellini scholar Adriano Aprŗ
  • Italian directors Paolo Taviani and Vittorio Taviani (Padre padrone) discussing the profound influence Rosselliniís films have had on them
  • Roberto and Roswitha, a new illustrated essay by film scholar Thomas Meder on Rosselliniís relationship with his mistress Roswitha Schmidt
  • A booklet featuring essays by James Quandt, Irene Bignardi, Colin MacCabe, and Jonathan Rosenbaum

Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Roberto Rossellini
2017 | 294 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $99.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #500
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: July 11, 2017
Review Date: July 20, 2017

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SYNOPSIS

Roberto Rossellini is one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. And it was with his trilogy of films made during and after World War IIóRome Open City, Paisan, and Germany Year Zeroóthat he left his first transformative mark on cinema. With their stripped-down aesthetic, largely nonprofessional casts, and unorthodox approaches to storytelling, these intensely emotional works were international sensations and came to define the neorealist movement. Shot in battle-ravaged Italy and Germany, these three films are some of our most lasting, humane documents of devastated postwar Europe, containing universal images of both tragedy and hope.


PICTURE

The Criterion Collection upgrades their previous DVD box set for Roberto Rosselliniís The War Trilogy to Blu-ray, presenting the films over three dual-layer discs. The set includes Rome Open City, Paisan, and Germany Year Zero. Both Rome Open City and Paisan are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 while Germany Year Zero is presented in the ratio of 1.33:1. All three films are also presented in 1080p/24hz high-definition.

This is a somewhat odd set, and Criterion goes a route I donít entirely understand. All three films were restored in 2013 and I would have expected Criterion to use those restorations for their release here, just like BFI did for their UK set a couple of years ago. It appears that they, like BFI, are using the new restorations for both Rome Open City and Paisan: the notes preceding each film note the 4K restorations (though Criterionís booklet notes state that Paisan comes from a 2K restoration, so Iím not sure whatís true or if Iím misreading the notes). The BFI set also utilizes the new restoration for Germany Year Zero, and it looked excellent, a large upgrade over the Criterion DVD. Yet oddly, for reasons unknown, Criterion isnít using the new restoration for Germany Year Zero, instead using the old high-definition master that was the basis for their DVD edition. I have no idea why this is and maybe if the final image was any good it wouldnít be a big deal, but unfortunately, even though it looked fine enough on DVD, this master doesnít translate well at all to Blu-ray.

Germany Year Zero is, as you may have guessed, the worst looking presentation in the set, and it becomes all the more obvious when you come to it off of the previous two, better looking presentations. Itís a muddled looking image, lacking real definition a lot of the time, thanks to weak source materials and a weak encode. Film grain is present but itís not rendered well, looking blocky and noisy, lending more to the digital, fuzzy look the final image has. Damage is also still pretty heavy, with scratches and tram lines, suggesting little to no further restoration has gone into this since the DVD. I guess in the end it does look a bit sharper than the DVD, but not by a lot, and it doesnít help the image has a processed look.

And thatís a real shame because the other two films in the set look really good, offering significant upgrades over their previous DVD counterparts. Of the two Paisan is the weaker only because the source materials for the film are in worse condition, presenting more damage and scratches (primarily in the archival footage) and a noticeable flicker and pulse. Outside of these issues Paisan has had significant work done to it in comparison to the previous DVD, cleaning up a lot of the blemishes that were visible on the DVD. Rome Open City also comes out looking really good, with only a few marks remaining.

But most importantly both films present sharp and filmic encodes. They both present astonishing amounts of detail, superb tonal shifts in the grays, and fairly rich black levels. They also both render grain rather well (far better than Germany Year Zero) and I didnít detect any digital anomalies. Theyíre clean and natural looking presentations.

And that makes this aspect all the more frustrating. The first two films come out looking so good, so much better than their DVD counterparts, while Germany Year Zero, despite still technically being an upgrade, actually looks worse. And that wasnít necessary because as the BFI release has shown there is a better restoration. Just a baffling decision on Criterionís part.

Detailed reviews for each title:
Rome Open City, Paisan, Germany Year Zero

7/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

Screen Capture
Rome Open City

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Rome Open City

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Rome Open City

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Rome Open City

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Rome Open City

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Paisan

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Paisan

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Paisan

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Paisan

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Paisan

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Germany Year Zero

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Germany Year Zero

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Germany Year Zero

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Germany Year Zero

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Germany Year Zero

AUDIO

All three tracks are presented in lossless PCM 1.0 mono. Unfortunately theyíre all fairly edgy, with Germany Year Zero sounding especially distorted. And while damage like pops and drops arenít a problem, there can still be audible hiss present. All three tracks are also fairly flat with weak fidelity. None of them are ideal but I still suspect the source materials are the limiting factor here.

Detailed reviews for each title:
Rome Open City, Paisan, Germany Year Zero

5/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion does port over everything from the previous box set, spreading the features out over the three discs.

The first disc, featuring Rome Open City, starts off with an Introduction by Roberto Rossellini, a 3-minute segment originally made for a French television program in 1963. Criterion has included one for each film on the set. In this one Rossellini talks a bit about the development of the script and their limited resources (specifically having to purchase scraps of film) and then its reception at Cannes. The material is covered elsewhere but itís great getting footage of Rossellini talking about his own films, even if itís brief.

Carried over from Criterionís laserdisc (and unavailable since then) is the audio commentary by film scholar Peter Bondanella. Itís a fairly good scholarly track covering the filmís production, editing style and look, as well as neorealist cinema in general. He also covers Italian cinema and the industry before and around the time of Rome Open City, and also covers war time in Italy. It can be a touch dry at times, and there are moments where he falls into the trap of simply describing on screen events, but itís a strong track, one certainly worth listening to.

One of the bigger features in the set is the 2006 documentary Once Upon a TimeÖ ďRome Open City.Ē Running 52-minutes (and broken down into 7 chapters) it works as a making-of bringing together new interviews and archived interviews covering the production of the film. Thereís footage of Rossellini in Italy recalling war time and the shoot, and thereís some intriguing anecdotes about filming on location, particularly one incident where passengers on a bus confused the filming of German soldiers arresting a priest as the real thing (one passenger apparently drawing a pistol.) It unfortunately feels a need to move on to the affair between Roberto Rossellini and actress Ingrid Bergman (though it does at least allow Isabella to recall memories about her mother and father) but other than this aspect itís a decent documentary on the film and the war trilogy in general.

Next is a 12-minute interview with film historian and ďRossellini expertĒ Adriano Aprŗ. He covers similar subjects covered elsewhere (the limited resources, the filmís reception) but talks a little more about the actors, including Aldo Fabrizi and Anna Magnani (known more for their comedic roles.) He also goes over the meaning of the title, which I appreciated since, as Iíll freely admit, I never understood the significance of the title.

Rossellini and the City is a ďvideo essayĒ by Mike Shiel covering the use of locations throughout the three films, covering the geography, space, monuments, and architecture and how they work in the films, as well as camera positions and framing. Itís not a ďvideo essayĒ as Iím used to from other releases, feeling more like an interview with Shiel accompanied by clips and stills. At 25-minutes it might be a little long but itís a fairly interesting examination of the locations used for the trilogy. Just as a warning this feature not only contains spoilers for Rome Open City but the other films in the set as well.

The disc then concludes with a short 5-minute interview with Father Virgilio Fantuzzi (who, along with Aprŗ, offered interviews on Criterionís DVD for Rosselliniís The Flowers of Saint Francis.) In it he mentions how Rossellini wasnít a believer but there are religious elements in all of his films, looking specifically at those found in Rome Open City, which includes poses of the actors and even some artwork.

The second disc, which features Paisan, starts off like the other discs with another brief introduction by Roberto Rossellini. Itís another brief 3-minutes and the director covers the basic premise of the film and the themes with in it, specifically the inability of people to communicate. Not an eye-opening piece by any means, as it doesnít add anything new for anyone who has already watched the film, but itís always nice having the director talk about one of his films.

Adriano Aprŗ gives another interview piece, this time focusing on Paisan. The longest of the three segments by him on the set, running 17-minutes, he talks briefly about the production, which had a script that went through the hands of a few American writers, and also had more money thanks to an American G.I. He also breaks down each episode within the film, offering a nice analysis for them and bringing the themes up front, and then talks about the different styles that appear in each or the use of space to disorient the viewer. While the lack of a commentary for this film is disappointing this brief interview actually covers the film fairly well.

Rossellini at Rice University offers 13-minutes of excerpts from video taken of the director during a showing of his films at the university (some of these appear in the documentary on the disc for Rome Open City.) I will mention the audio is rather poor so I had to strain at times to hear what the director was saying. Heís asked about the possible influences of French expressionism on his films and also asked about the script to the film they viewed (which I assume is Paisan.) He also talks about the actors and the use of improvisation, and even talks a bit about the individual segments in Paisan. Itís disappointing that more of the footage isnít included here, though I assume it might be because thereís discussion about other films. But, despite the audio being hard to hear at times, I was glad at the inclusion of what we do get, getting more about the film from Rossellini himself.

The best feature on here, though, is Tag Gallagherís 30-minute illustrated essay called Into the Future, which offers a surprisingly thorough examination of all three films in the War Trilogy, stepping through each film. He offers a thorough examination of the techniques used, the editing, and even makes comparisons to the script. He brings up some of the themes found in the films, how Italians and Americans would perceive the films (specifically Paisan, and then offers a great analysis of the character of Edmund from Germany Year Zero (and it should be noted that there are SPOILERS in this segment for that film, so if you havenít seen the film yet you may want to skip the feature until you view it.) Itís a great feature, one of the best ones in the release, and Iím a tad disappointed there wasnít more from Gallagher to be found on this set.

Disc three, for Germany Year Zero also features an introduction by Roberto Rossellini. In this one Rossellini explains how this film completes his canvas of the trilogy, and how he had a desire to show Germany in their tragedy. He also recalls his trip to Berlin for the first time after the war. At 4-minutes itís the longest and probably the most interesting intro by the director found on the set.

Italian Credits and Prologue shows the alternate 3-minute opening for the film. Criterion has chosen to present the German version of the film on the DVD, with German credits and prologue, but this feature presents the Italian version of the credits and prologue which is a little different. I would guess since Criterion is presenting this in this fashion that Rossellini prefers the German version, though I canít say this is noted anywhere.

Roberto Rossellini is the big feature on here, a 65-minute documentary about the man and his career, hosted by Carlo Lizzani, who worked as assistant director on Germany Year Zero. It begins as a typical biography covering his early life but then moves quickly to his film career. It goes over his early films and then concentrates a bit more attention on his war trilogy, Germany Year Zero specifically, with Lizzani recalling the production. It moves on to his affair with Ingrid Bergman but chooses to focus more on the films they made together rather than the scandal surrounding it, even providing footage of Bergman talking about working with Rossellini and the differences between making one of his films and your typical Hollywood film. The documentary then covers his television period and then mentions some unfinished projects that he never got around to before his death. Itís an excellent documentary, featuring interviews with Martin Scorsese and Isabella Rossellini, along with archive clips with Francois Truffaut and Ingrid Bergman. What I most liked about the feature is that it focused mainly on Rosselliniís career and not a lot out of that, except maybe for a small portion on the death of his son, Romano, which led to the development of Germany Year Zero. An excellent documentary and one certainly worth viewing.

Letters from the Front: Carlo Lizzani on Germany Year Zero is a 23-minute segment of a podium discussion with Lizanni. As mentioned in the last paragraph, Lizanni worked as assistant director on Germany Year Zero, though only because Federico Fellini was unavailable. Here he reads a couple of letters he wrote while working on the film, first one he wrote before leaving to work on the production and then another while shooting in Berlin. He interrupts himself occasionally to explain the context of the letters. I wasnít sure how this feature would be but I actually rather enjoyed it. Although itís an odd way of doing so it actually offers some great insight into the production and works as a fairly decent making-of in its own way. Itís also fairly funny and entertaining oddly enough, especially since someone reading letters as a feature doesnít sound all that enthralling. A wonderful treat and a great find.

And again we get an interview with Adriano Aprŗ, who offers an analysis on the film and how it ties in with his other films in the trilogy. While Iím not sure on a couple of things heís trying to present itís an okay bit, though works best when he breaks down the final actions of the filmís protagonist.

Also found here is an 8-minute interview with directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, who discuss how the films Paisan and Germany Year Zero influenced them, and when they eventually met Rossellini. Itís a nice interview, especially as the two recall the impact Paisan had on them (I always like it when a filmgoer recalls the moment they realized a film could be more than what they initially thought it could be.)

The disc then concludes with a rather bizarre feature, and one I sort of question being included. Called Roberto and Roswitha itís a text essay by Thomas Meder that attempts to answer why Rossellini decided to make a film in Germany. He mentions other theories (that probably seem more likely) but presents the theory that Rossellini made the film in Germany for his then-mistress Roswitha Schmidt, who was German. He presents a brief history of the two and then, in a bit of a ďconspiracy theoryĒ sort of way, starts to present evidence that she was the reason Rossellini made the film in Germany. While thereís some interesting items such as photos (and a rather cruel breakup letter from Rossellini) I donít really get why this is here or why this should even be an issue. I guess itís worth reading through for the few interesting tidbits but if it wasnít included I doubt many would have missed it. In fact Iím somewhat surprised it is here: Criterion has been usually dropping these text only features for their Blu-ray upgrades so the fact it was carried over is really a bit of a minor miracle.

Criterion then includes a booklet similar to the one found in the DVD box set. Though it cuts out some of the photos and such the printed material appears to be the same: a general essay on the trilogy by James Quandt, followed by individual essays for each film written by Irene Bignardi (Rome Open City), Colin MacCabe (Paisan), and Jonathan Rosenbaum (Germany Year Zero).

Taken altogether the supplements are in-depth and satisfying, well worth the effort of sitting down with and going through.

10/10

CLOSING

This upgrade, in the end, is fairly maddening. It blows the BFI edition away for supplements, offering an extensive collection of informative material about the trilogy and Rosselliniís work. Unfortunately, despite using new restorations for Rome Open City and Paisan, Criterion has gone the route of using an older master for Germany Year Zero. Itís a bizarre situation since the BFI edition uses the newer one, and it looks significantly better than what we find here. A true shame as this is otherwise a very solid edition.


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