Rome, Open City by Roberto Rossellini (1945)

The evening news has a reputation for blood thirst. “If it bleeds, it leads” they say.  This is almost universally considered bad taste, but the practice continues because it draws an audience, albeit for wrong reasons.  Artists, like filmmakers, for instance, have traditionally let some time pass before depicting horrors. The tragedy of September 11th’s attacks is a good example.  Some artists, like Roberto Rossellini, ignore the margins.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

Rome, Open City is one of the great masterworks of the Italian neorealist movement in film, of which Roberto Rossellini is perhaps its most famous representative. The neorealists wanted to make movies that were different from normal cinematic fare, replacing Hollywood-style romanticism with the harsh realities of life as their subject. This could be accomplished by dispensing with many of the normal techniques of shooting a film, so they generally shot their films on location, used nonprofessional actors as much as possible, and avoided using cinematic effects to move the audience. They also avoided melodramatic emotion and sought a more impassive tone, trying to capture the way people really acted and spoke.

The title of the film refers to the status of the city of Rome just as WWII was winding down, which is when the film was made. Rome had not yet been liberated by the Allies and still lay tenuously in the hands of the Nazis; its population was demoralized and much of the city was in ruins. In this context, Rossellini tells the stories of some of the members of the resistance who fought against the Germans. Amid the bombed-out buildings, the struggle for daily survival, and all the moral compromises made by characters on both sides of the struggle, there is room for much heroism. One of these heroes is a priest, Don Pietro, who uses the freedom of movement he has as a clergyman to aid the resistance. He is eventually tortured and executed by the Germans when this complicity is discovered. The scene of the kindly priest being shot while neighboring children look on in horror, or of the pregnant Pina being gunned down in the street while running after the truck that is taking away her lover, pack immense emotional power because they feel so utterly real.

Italian filmgoers who had recently emerged into the postwar era recognized the truth that Rossellini was telling about the pain, suffering, privation, and difficult moral decisions that had to be navigated in those dark days. He did not want to allow his audience to avert their eyes but rather to look the grim realities full in the face. Through the character of his heroic priest, though, he offers a hope deeper than any sort of shallow optimism, a hope rooted in the belief that there are realities beyond this life that can be a reservoir for strength and courage.

How long should an artist wait after a tragedy to depict its pain?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R

Roberto Rossellini

Roberto Rossellini

(1906–77). Italian motion-picture director Roberto Rossellini directed the first film created in the Italian style of filmmaking called neorealism, Open City (1945). Neorealist films featured natural settings in which actors either were or looked like ordinary people involved in commonplace situations.

The son of a successful sculptor and architect, Rossellini was born on May 8, 1906, in Rome. In 1931 Italy’s Fascist government confiscated his father’s fortune. Three years later Rossellini began working at odd jobs in the film industry. He directed a full-length feature, White Ship (1941), but navy officials objected to its antiwar tone. His name was removed from the film, and it was released anonymously.

During World War II Rossellini directed propaganda films for the Italian government but also was affiliated with the underground film movement that secretly recorded the activities of the anti-Fascist Resistance. Open City, which incorporated this documentary footage shot during the war, set the style for postwar Italian films in its realistic portrayal of life in Italy during its occupation by Nazi Germany. It was acclaimed internationally as one of the most outstanding films of the postwar period. Paisan (1946), a series of six episodes of World War II in Italy, also won worldwide notice.

Rossellini’s realistic technique continued in Germany, Year Zero (1947) and India (1958). The Flowers of St. Francis (1950) presented a series of anecdotes about the Italian saint. Stromboli (1949) and The Lonely Woman (1953) were outstanding in a series of films exploring the meaning of freedom. These movies starred the actress Ingrid Bergman, whose love affair with Rossellini caused an international scandal. Their marriage in 1950, after both sought divorces from their first spouses, was annulled in 1958.

Rossellini then directed a series of films with patriotic themes, including General Della Rovere (1959) and The Betrayer (1961). During the 1950s and 1960s Rossellini also directed a number of works for the stage, and in 1956 he directed his first film for television. From 1964 he devoted himself to television films, including the biographical Socrate (1970). Rossellini died in Rome on June 3, 1977. His realistic style strongly influenced the development of important cinema talents, such as the director Federico Fellini, who came into prominence in the 1950s.


Sources & Resources

“Rossellini, Roberto,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Gallagher, Tag. The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini. San Francisco: Da Capo, 1998.

Morefield, Kenneth. “Roberto Rossellini and the Moral Point of View.” Christianity Today. May 13, 2013.

Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy. DVD. Directed by Roberto Rossellini. New York: Criterion Collection, 2009.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).


Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.

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Rick Wilcox

Rick is voraciously interested in the holistic transformation of people individually and in an organizational context - enabled by technology, educated continuously through multi-channel systems and informed by the wisdom of history's greatest thinkers. He is a Ph.D. student at Faulkner University, focusing on the appearance of the Logos in English Literature. He earned a Master of Arts in Christian Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Science in Management from Sam Houston State University. His undergraduate studies earned a BA with double majors in Sociology and Theology from Houston Baptist University. Rick is an ordained minister who leads the Parenting Teens Adult Community at Faith Bible Church in The Woodlands Texas.