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Moving on to a few cinematic examples of this tradition, one would do well to begin with Roberto Rossellini's Roma, citta aperta (Rome, Open City, 1945), a landmark film of the neorealist era that portrays the struggles of the Italian partisans against the Nazis during the period of German occupation. Here, the character Pina, played by Anna Magnani, is the working-class fiancé of the typesetter-cum-partisan Francesco and the expectant mother of his child. By way of her social class and inherently goodhearted religio-moral makeup, Pina can be seen as not only an idealized Italian mother, but also as an idealized Italy herself whose existence, familial and otherwise, is devastated and imperiled by the various warring factions that both circumscribe and invade her. When she is gunned down by the Nazis, offspring yet in utero, her futile death parallels that of so many other innocents in wartime; that she dies with a child in her womb thus dashes symbolically Italy's hopes for any immediately better future.
In turn, it is precisely this dashed future that Pier Paolo Pasolini depicts in Mamma Roma (1962), in which the title character, a prostitute—also played by Anna Magnani, whom Pasolini chose precisely because of the diametrically opposed role she had played in Citta aperta—is relegated to a life of misery and false hope in the projects outside of Rome, where the forsaken landscape is as strewn with the fallout of boom-time development as it is with the elsewhere-eminent ruins of a distant empire. Mamma Roma's call name could only be more blatantly referential if it were Italia, and her son, the very epically non-heroic Ettore, is as hapless as he is hopeless, a dawdling thug and petty thief whose only calling seems to be that of his absentee father, an abusive pimp. If Magnani-as-Italy was invaded and killed by warring parties in Open City, she is opened further and whored-out by the sorrows of socioeconomic violence in Mamma Roma. Here, however, she does not die. Ettore, rather—the delirious and degenerate issue, as it were, of Rossellini's machine-gunned madre—is destined to perish, in cruciform fashion no less. Instead of moving on, Mamma Roma, Italia, merely continues to live—her desperate state of intractable depravity a fate as traumatic as, if not worse than, death.
There are at least a few other films worthy of brief mention here. Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice, dir. Giuseppe De Santis, 1949) is a melodramatic intrigue that commingles neorealist praxis with facets of Hollywoodiana in its portrayal of Silvana, played by the voluptuous blond Silvana Mangano, and her very literal—and nationally symbolic—downfall resulting from an unrequited love affair with American culture. In C'eravamo tanto amati (We All Loved Each Other So Much, dir. Ettore Scola, 1974), the female protagonist, Luciana, represents not so much postwar Italy as she does the various faces of postwar Italian cinema itself. And in L'ultimo bacio (The Last Kiss, dir. Gabriele Muccino, 2001), the primary female character, Giulia, a complicated persona though she may be, embodies a somewhat idealized archetype of the contemporary Italian adult woman, daughter, friend, girlfriend, and soon-to-be wife and mother whose life is given meaning, then rendered asunder by her somewhat idealized, archetypal, unfaithful and belligerently contrite boyfriend. At film's end, as Giulia's not-quite-tragically shattered life is pieced together again, the pacifying montage through which this is conveyed bears more than a little resemblance to a standard Italian television commercial for, say, furniture, or breakfast cookies, or appliances. Of additional interest here is that the role of Giulia in this widely lauded film became Giovanna Mezzogiorno's major breakout role.