Before focusing generally on films about cities in wartime, we have chosen four whose geographical and historical proximity has produced a vast filmography: Paris, London, Rome and Berlin.
It is Berlin, practically razed to the ground, that Roberto Rossellini presents to us in Germany, Year Zero. Unlike people, cities can rise from the ashes, and here Rossellini appears to film ghosts amongst the ruins. Using a completely different style and with his fierce sense of derision, in A Foreign Affair Billy Wilder glorifies Marlene Dietrich as a former Nazi. London suffered greatly during the Blitz, with the entire German aerial force unleashed upon it. In his astounding anti-Nazi propaganda thriller Ministry of Fear, based on a novel by Graham Greene, Fritz Lang transforms London into a fantastical city where danger is everywhere and salvation nowhere to be found. In Mrs Henderson Presents, Stephen Frears chooses humour with which to narrate the same city, through the story of a somewhat risqué music hall venue which becomes a symbol of resistance. Paris did not suffer the same bombing as did London and Berlin, but for four years the French capital was under the yoke of the Nazis. American filmmaker Vincente Minelli embraced these dark years when in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, he tells the story of a grand Argentinean family torn apart by history. Flamboyant and melodramatic, Paris is the city of all excesses. The Trip Across Paris by Claude Autant-Lara was the first film to try to recount how the French behaved during the occupation. It is not happy viewing, and the laughter is fierce.
Rome has been forever marked by Rossellini’s magnificent film Rome, Open City, the first of the neorealist trilogy that would alter the history of the cinema and hence the history of observation. Anna Magnani embodies the city and her death is one of the most searing in cinema. Fifteen years later with Escape by Night, Rossellini made a wonderful Hawskian film about an Englishman, a Russian and an American trapped in a Roman attic, awaiting their mutual enemy. Men damage and even destroy the cities they themselves have built but the cinema ensures their memory lives on.
GERMANY YEAR ZERO, by Roberto ROSSELLINI (1947) - Italy
A FOREIGN AFFAIR, by Billy WILDER (1948) - USA
MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS, by Stephen FREARS (2005) - United Kingdom
MINISTRY OF FEAR, by Fritz LANG (1944) - USA
THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, by Vincente MINNELLI (1962) - USA
THE TRIP ACROSS PARIS, by Claude AUTANT-LARA (1956) - France
ROME OPEN CITY, by Roberto ROSSELLINI (1945) - Italy
ESCAPE BY NIGHT, by Roberto ROSSELLINI (1960) - Italy