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Film / Paisan

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Paisan is a 1946 film directed by Roberto Rossellini.

It is the story of the Allied liberation of Italy, from the initial landings in Sicily in July 1943, to campaigning in the Po river valley in December 1944. The common theme behind the episodes is the culture clash between the Italians and their American liberators, with particular stress on the language barrier. The film consists of six unconnected "episodes" in chronological order.

  • 1st episode: The American landing in Sicily. A squadron of American soldiers recruits a local girl named Carmela to show them a safe route through the minefields. While the rest of the squad goes on ahead, Carmela and a friendly GI named Joe wait in an abandoned castle.

  • 2nd episode: The Americans capture Naples. A street urchin named Pasquale steals the boots of a black American soldier that Pasquale calls "Joe". Pasquale doesn't know that Joe is an MP.

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  • 3rd episode: Frank, a drunk American soldier in liberated Rome, meets a local woman named Francesca. Francesca, who has decided to prostitute herself, takes Frank to her room. Instead, Frank tells her about a woman he met a few months before when the city was liberated.

  • 4th episode: The Germans have retreated to the northern half of Florence, on the north bank of the Arno River, where they are fighting Italian partisans. An American nurse, Harriet, is trying to get to the north bank and contact her lover, a painter named Guido. She discovers that her lover is "Lupo", leader of the partisans. She is joined by Massimo, a local who is trying to get to the north bank to find his family.

  • 5th episode: Three American chaplains stay at a Catholic monastery, where they get to know the monks. The monks have a hissy fit when they find out that of the three chaplains, only one is a Catholic, with the others being a Protestant and a Jew.

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  • 6th episode: Three American OSS agents are operating with partisans in the Po delta. They rescue two British pilots who crash land in the delta marshes. Unfortunately, they are captured by the Germans.

A young Federico Fellini was credited with co-writing the story and screenplay. Giuletta Masina, Fellini's wife and frequent leading lady who would later become famous starring in Fellini movies like Nights of Cabiria, made her film debut in a bit part.


  • Anthology Film: Six stories recounting the lives of ordinary people in the Italian campaign.
  • Barefoot Poverty: Pasquale and Carmela go around barefoot.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: In the last episode, one of the Italians in the little band of partisans shoots himself as the Germans close in.
  • Could Say It, But...: When Massimo and Harriet are frantically asking the Italian guard how they can cross the river to the north bank, the guard says stuff like "Use your imagination" and "Don't make me spell it out." When Massimo finally correctly guesses "the Uffizi passageway?" the guard says "I know nothing."
  • Dead Guy on Display: The last episode opens with a body floating down the Po River, held up by a life preserver, with a sign secured behind its head that says "PARTISAN".
  • Downer Ending:
    • The first episode ends with Joe being killed by the Germans, and Carmela being thrown off a cliff to her death after she picks up his rifle and shoots one of them.
    • The third episode ends with Frank leaving Rome with his squad and never seeing Francesca again, because he was too intoxicated to recognize her the night before, and he doesn't realize the significance of the piece of paper with her address.
    • The fourth episode ends with Harriet finding out from a dying partisan that her lover Guido/"Lupo" was killed.
    • The sixth episode ends with the partisans tied up and pushed into the Po River to drown, while two of the Allied soldiers are shot when they protest.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: "The first newspaper printed in Florence" (after the southern half of the city has been liberated) announces that Lupo has been wounded in fighting on the north bank.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Joe shows Carmela a picture of his sister and her son, and is immediately shot by a German sniper.
  • Flashback: In episode 3, the first meeting of Frank and Francesca is shown in an extended flashback.
  • Foreshadowing: As the Americans are feeling their way through the darkness in the first episode, Joe lights up his lighter. His sergeant barks at him to put it out or he'll be killed. When he lights it again, he is in fact shot and killed.
  • Hong Kong Dub: As with many Italian Neorealism films, all the dialogue was looped in after filming. It's often very very noticeable.
  • I Want My Mommy!: A dying Italian soldier in Florence says "Mama, I feel cold" as Harriet cradles him.
  • Left Hanging: The fourth episode ends without revealing if Massimo's family is OK. He disappears from the screen, running off to find them, and isn't seen again.
  • Mistaken Identity: A joke in the first episode. When the GIs first encounter the civilians huddling in the church, one of the civilians greets them with "Willkommen, my friends! They didn't land, did they?
  • No Name Given: We actually don't learn the name of the black MP in episode 2; he's merely called "Joe" by Pasquale.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Joe the MP drives away at the end of episode 2, after shamefacedly giving his boots back to Pasquale.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Francesca doesn't tell Frank who she is. That may be because Frank was so drunk, but she doesn't write her name or tell him anything on the note she leaves behind, instead leaving only an address. And then of course she leaves before he wakes up. Frank thinks the note is the address to a whorehouse, and so he and Francesca never meet.
  • Puppet Shows: A very drunk Joe goes to see one in Naples in episode 2, and is so drunk he gets on the stage and fights the puppets.
  • Stock Footage: The linking segments for all the episodes are stock footage of real combat, starting with the Sicily landing, as a narrator sets the scene for the episode that follows.
  • Street Performer: Pasquale and his friends are trying to earn money dancing down by the docks, but are upstaged by a fire swallower.
  • Street Urchin: Pasquale, a hungry orphan trying to survive on the streets of Naples.
  • Time Skip: The third episode starts with stock footage of the German evacuation from and American liberation of Rome, before a title card says "SIX MONTHS LATER", dating the story to December 1944.
  • Title Drop: In episode 1, one of the very few Italian words Joe knows, as he demonstrates to a mystified Carmela. In episode 2, Joe the MP calls little Pasquale paisan.
  • Translation Convention: Averted, hard. A major theme is communication problems due to language barriers, with dialogue in no less than SEVEN languages.note 
  • Urban Warfare: The battle for Florence. Harriet and Massimo encounter an older Italian, a World War I veteran, manning an observation post for the partisans on the roof of his own house. Soon after, they see civilians passing water across a downtown street with a cart on a string, because if they venture into the street with the water they'll get shot.

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