Rome, Open City (Roma citta aperta) (1945)
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Italian neo-realism is the genre of film you watch when you want your heart broken. Not in the romantic 'Why can't they be together!' way that romance weepies do, but in their exploration of the lives of the poor and oppressed, and the occasional futility of life, particular in desparate times. Made during the months after the end of WWII, Rossellini's film follows a group of Italian resistance fighters during the occupation of Rome.
The most heartbreaking moment of the film comes half-way through, and is made even more shocking for the blunt and realistic way it happens. Pina, engaged to be married to Resistance fighter Francesco, and several months pregnant, runs after the truck carrying Francesco when she is suddenly shot dead. It is almost as much of a shock as Marion's death in Psycho, as Pina had been the film's heart up to that point.
The violence and torture increases throughout the film, as the Germans try to find out the others members of the Resistance. It is a depressing film in many respects, but it is tempered by the portrayal of decency and bravery of the resistant Italians, including the priest set to marry Pina and Francesco. We often think that wars are largely played out on battlefields, but Rossellini's film reminds us of the homefronts and the work of civilians to defend their countries.