Roles of Post-WWII Women in Italian Cinema
Key Women Characters
The three films of analysis have certain unique women characters who perhaps shape and contribute greatly to the image and outlook of a woman in the neorealist fashion. The history of the nation around the Second World War is a central part of the enactments in the films. All plots of the three films touch on the roles of women that correspond to the roles of women 1) during the Nazi resistance for Rome Open City, 2) during planting and harvesting season of the time for the Bitter Rice, and 3) the survival of women in a war torn Rome in the film, Two Women.
The historical shaping of the plot is what sets the stage for neorealist sets, style, casting and ultimately plot development. The plots follow everyday lives of the women, the marital, career, family loyalty and friendship choices they make and consequently how this interaction weaves a matrix of a story that is the film. Since the nature of these films was neorealist, they relied heavily on melodramatic effect where characters are to bring out emotions in a vivid and intense manner. Women in these films have excelled in this fashion so that whether it is affection, anger, greed, lust or sympathy, the spectrum of these emotions is displayed quite colorfully.
Character of women as agents of role development
The women characters in the films share certain expectations and have a common relationship based on the culture and historical economic orientations of the time. They also seek love, friendship and family stability but not all of them succeed in this quest. Marina, in the film Rome Open City, is betrayed by her lover Giorgio and seeks out revenge by taking the secrets of the resistance to the Army General who works with the Police Commissioner to rein in Giorgio. She expresses her wildly passions in ways that other women surrounding her, find offensive but she has her admirers too, namely Pina’s sister Lauretta and Ingrid.
The excesses of her depravity lure her towards lesbian orientations while giving in to men at the same time whenever she needs material possessions and other favors. Silvana shares a similar fate as her naivety drives her in the arms of the abusive Walter. Her sensual charm draws her to the brink of her dream success but instead leaves her in deep waters of betrayal and casual treatment to her rather well meaning and deep affection. In contrast, she rejects the love of Marco a gentleman with a reputable character and sincerity of motives.
Silvana flirts with men while Francesca is more reserved and even faithful to her errant and sly boyfriend Walter. These Two Women are caught in a web of love masking, betrayal and mixed loyalties. They are sometimes forced to choose between friendship and personal passions. Silvana’s fascination with Walter drives her to the fringes of doing anything for him even at the expense of her acquaintance and nemesis Francesca.
Donald Levit notes about the general conduct of women in the film: “All the women favor short shorts in the field, slips while bonding at off-time, and thin cotton dresses for dancing or flirting” The complexity of character of the women in Bitter Rice is one that does not need to be explained but rather appreciated as part of the general human ingenuity.
Ultimately, women who stand out in any of the three films only do so in two distinct categories; either they are perking up a male tree offering sexual favors as is the case of Marina or they are standing out to fight for social justice as is the case of Pina both in the film Rome Open City. There is also another kind of standing out even in a small way where in a determined resolve, a mother (Cesira) fights for her daughter’s (Rosetta’s) survival regardless of the rape trauma they are put through in the film, Two Women.
The women of all the three films take to hating each other and rivaling one another due to either immediate benefits or the lack of privileges among their common folk. The film Bitter Rice is one that shows the common struggles that women go through. They are seen scramming for space in the trains and trucks and huddling together in the rain in conditions that are inhuman. They cede to living this way instead of confronting the causes of their predicament and instead fight amongst themselves and tear at each other. The legal workers constantly traumatize the illegal ones and call them names. “Scabs”, as the illegal ones were called, were at the bottom of the food chain with no representation. The fighting and squabbles existing among them fueled a hatred for fellow women and a kind of isolation that their overseers could cash in on.
The case of jealousy among women in the films causes them collective pain so that even if it were one of them suffering, the men would use the women for their own selfish ends. Women become the great architects of their own undoing. Marcia talks about Marina as a woman of many colors whose material excesses causes her to consider her relationships in terms of what she stands to benefit. “…she becomes increasingly sinister…she acts the part of a concerned lover but her movements are those of a sleepwalker.”-97
Women’s Sexual Vulnerability as a Weapon and a Liability
The Sexuality of Women shaping their fate and those of others is a play of destiny that continues to exist throughout the three films. The nature of the interaction of women with the male characters in varied ways weaves relationships and in other cases courts destruction. In the film Two Women, Cisera goes to visit Giovanni who ends up sleeping with her because of misleading signals. The object of their meeting was not a sexual rendezvous but a courtesy call before Cisera left with her daughter.
The Flaw of Character that endears the women to danger is evident in either their sexuality or their peasant ignorance to the status of their conditions. Cesira’s insistent on the protection of her daughter to the extent where she acts against better judgment throws her daughter into the hands of rapists. Marcia Landy holds that the circumstance surrounding the war forced Cesira to be excessive in her handling of her daughter to the extend where she could not think through an action for fear of danger. This becomes a fundamental flaw in her character that changes their destinies forever.
On the other hand, there are some women who end up dangerously driving men into their detriment. The death of Giorgio Manfredi is occasioned by Marina, his former girlfriend. She colludes and connives with the Nazis with a revenge mission that wrought the ultimate end of the resistance veteran. The women’s affability also caused them to slip through detection units without much scrutiny to deliver information to the resistance units. Their sexual appeal and feline grace being constant distractions, men would be swayed in many directions creating shifts in plot for these films.
The need for women to express their femininity in the films comes out in different shades. There are those who will to establish a moral chastity as display for good character while there are those who would rather get their way by asserting their feminine dominance on men’s sexual weaknesses. Such ill-perceived urges are what sets the material girls such as Marina, Silvana, and Ingrid apart from the rest. The lurid emptiness in the lives of Cesira and Rosetta put them on a shaky ground of falling in love with the same man even though the intentions of Cesira were to find her daughter a decent intelligent man.
Marina and Ingrid on the other hand, engage in acts of intimacy with each other that are considered, in the general decorum of the film, pervasive. Their lesbian tendencies towards each other create a different lustful orientation that is different from what is generally acceptable in the context of a heterosexual society. Marcia says “As the film portrays Marina and Ingrid’s relations, they bear the stigma of ‘perversity’ whose language most often is translated into sexual terms.”
Silvana of the Bitter Rice, on the other hand, has two suitors who are interested in her, Walter and Marco. She decides to forgo Marco, who represents the genuine and affectionate love deserving of a decent woman, and chases after Walter whose goal is to use her to please himself. The sexual tag between Silvana and Walter is that of sadomasochism where Walter is the sadist and Silvana is the Masochist. Francesca also suffers the same fate to some degree, when she resigns to her fate and remains loyal to her insensitive boyfriend regardless of his heartbreaks.
The Heroism of the Women
Some women are altogether effigies of hope and restitution. Regardless of the pain and loss that some women cause others, there are those who are determined to salvage their lives, those of their loved ones and also fellow women. The struggles of Cesira and Rosetta push their relationship to the wall. Without a father to defend them from the seemingly male dominated society, Cesira and her daughter are forced to flee and pursue their security in the hilly mountains through the labor of their hands. The film Two Women, achieve the status of universal identity in capturing the fighting spirit of the heroine Cesira. Regardless of her struggles to get by in life, she does not succumb to self-pity or blame. She in fact rises above common sentiments of despondency and makes a home for her daughter.
The same cleansing realization washes over Francesca who begins to reflect on her life in contrast to that of her counterparts in the film Bitter Rice. Even though their struggles are squalor and altogether painful she realizes a redemptive consolation in fighting and singing alongside her kindred, the women folk. She helps transform a relationship of hate and mistrust among the women of the rice paddies and helps re-unite them in purpose in small ways. Pina too fights for her love and family when the Nazi soldiers take away the man she loved. She shouts dramatically and breaks the hold of the restraining officers when her man is captured but her life is presently ended with a bullet. Onlookers are either too scared or too riveted at the scene that no other man comes to her rescue except the priest and her son Marcello. The gruesome treatment of women escalates to a place where it becomes a privilege to enjoy protection in these war torn times. This however does not break the spirit of women to believe in justice and hope for freedom as it is seen through the women who aid the resistance by transporting food, weapons and information to the forces across dangerous neighborhoods.
There is a religious sense to women generally and with it comes a sense of redemptive purpose when they finally fall so that justice may prevail. Pina’s death in Rome Open City depicts the death of a nation as it were. Sidney Gotllieb says the following about the film Rome Open City: “The film adheres to the cliché of brutal and unnecessary death of a woman as symbolic of the fallen nation…”
The sickening harsh treatment by the Nazis is a burden on the shoulders of many Romans who have to contend with these evils. When her husband-to-be is taken away, Pina is left destitute and in one fell swoop, she breaks loose and publicly demonstrates resistance to her own demise. She leaves behind a child desperate for a mother’s love. Her sacrifice serves as an impetus for men to stand up to the challenge. Even when the priest stands over her lifeless form, it is evident that her death strengthens his determination to help the resistance to the point where he is eventually executed for not yielding to the Nazis.