Paisan (1946)

Six dramatised end-of-WWII stories that bring us from Sicily to the Po Valley, the second part of Rossellini’s ‘War Trilogy’ shows us the emotions associated with the tragedy of war as well as the liberation from oppression.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,170

Dir. Roberto Rossellini
1946 | Italy | Drama/War | 126 mins | 1.37:1 | Italian, English & German
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Carmela Sazio, Gar Moore, William Tubbs
Plot: Six episodes set during the liberation of Italy at the end of World War II, taking place across the country, from Sicily to the northern Po Valley.
Awards: Won ANICA Cup & International Critics Award – Special Mention (Venice); Nom. for Best Writing (Oscars)
Source: Cinecitta Luce

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Human Condition
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

I finally got to Paisan after seeing Rome Open City (1945) and Germany Year Zero (1948), which make up Roberto Rossellini’s ‘War Trilogy’, one of the most important trilogies in world cinema. 

The three films are of course not related by plot, but by theme, in this case circling on stories that depict the tragic tail end of WWII in Italy and Germany, and the aftermath of trauma. 

Out of the trio, Paisan is the most formally structured, featuring six stories that take us on a war-and-liberation journey from Sicily, Naples, Rome, Florence, and finally to the Po Valley, a path that the Allied forces embarked on in the liberation of Italy from the Nazis and fascists. 

In between, there’s a relatively uneventful but faith-shaking visit to a Catholic monastery untouched by the war. Rossellini prefigures each segment with wartime ‘newsreel-style’ footage before transiting into dramatised accounts of tragedy, courage and hope. 

“Another partisan in the Po, boys.”

Because of this omnibus style, not all segments work equally well, but they are quite fairly even in quality, even though some of them do end rather abruptly.  However, one thing’s for sure, Paisan is as emotional an experience as the other two films. 

My favourite chapter could be the one in Naples featuring an Italian boy-cum-thief and a Black American GI, with an eye-opening denouement that shows us the state of poverty in the Italian town. 

Rossellini saves the best for the last as a unit of Allied soldiers and Italian partisans team up to resist the encroaching Germans with much of the action operating on the muddy river marshes of Po. 

Grade: A-



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