Roberto Rosellini's "Open City" with regard to the war in Rome and "Paisa" for a view of different aspects of the war (religious tolerance, sex, inability to communicate and partisan activities, "Seven Beauties" (a grotesquely comic alternative view of the war) as well as Ignazio Silone, (Fontamara) for the prewar attitudes and Giorgio Bassani (The Garden of the Finzi Contini) for the life and attitudes of Jews and gentiles in Italy. Describe Italy in World War II and is aftermath through the late 1940's and how they impact through to the present day.
The history of any particular period can frequently best be described by the movies and works that were produced during that period. There is no exception made in the case of pre- and during the War Italy when certain movies and a novel that described the conditions captured the situation precisely. The description of this material and their commentary on the war will be described in the following essay.
Although Rosellini's "open City" was rather melodramatic and less real in various parts -- it can best be described as neorealism (aside from finding it quite difficult that a Catholic would marry a Communist), the film itself was shot during the war and beings to life presumably opinions of parts of the Italian people.
We find it easy to believe that a woman would betray the Resistance for drugs and other material comfort. Rationalization was high during that period; people were afraid, poor, in need, and confused. Their world had become abnormal and for most it was a struggle to stay alive. The fact that Marina betrayed both her boyfriend and a priest tells much about the huge moral conflict and pressure that people of that age and region endured.
At the same time, the story of the priest is based upon an actual Catholic priest - Don Pieto Morosini - who was shot for his Resistance activities. There was a sizeable partisan movement in Italy and this too indicates the existence of religious tolerance in Italy during the war -- particularly as compared to certain Eastern European countries such as Hungary, Poland, and the Ukraine). Italy may have been even more tolerant to the Jews than France was.
The film does show a disconnect between the Nazis and many of the Italians. In many Eastern European countries, for instance, the Nazis enjoyed collaborative contact with domestic government. Over here, there seems to have been a divide. Mussolini, fascist though he was, was better inclined towards the Jews than Hitler, and his ambitions were not race genocide. (You Tube open City http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7k2n7gr7A98)
"Seven Beauties" may be even less real; certainly more horrific. It is about an Italian pimp called Pasqualino who kills a prostitute, turns his sister into prostitute, is sent to a lunatic asylum to save his family's honor (he has seven ugly sisters), kills a patient there, and hides her body in suitcase and signs up to the Italian army to fight the Nazis as refuge. He is caught, sent to a concentration camp and there wins the sexual favors of the female Commandant. He is appointed kapo with the mission of selecting and killing six men. Pasqualino ends up killing the soldier with whom he was captured as well as being responsible for the death of another comrade. At war's end he finds that this mother and sisters have turned to prostitution in order to survive.
The movie is a commentary on the moral challenges of the War where anarchy reigned and people did all to survive. Whilst some turned into the saints other, such as the character of this movie, Pasqualino (as well as his family) turned into beasts riding roughshod over all moral principles. The War was a time of anarchy and upheaval. It may have seemed like the end of the world. For many, survival was their sole concern. And they would do anything in order to survive.
Some of this attitude is captured by Wertmuller in the opening sequence:
The ones who believe Christ is Santa Claus as young man. Oh, yeah. The ones who say: Oh, what the hell. The ones who were there. The ones who believe in everything ... even in God. The ones who listen to the national anthem. Oh, yeah. The ones who love their country. The ones who keep going, just to see how it will end. Oh, yeah. The ones who are in garbage up to here. Oh,…