How Subtitles Change Everything

Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy is not exactly a DVD release that needs to be reviewed. To put it simply: if you are a lover of cinema, especially Italian Neo-Realist films, these DVDs are a must-own. With improved transfers of image and sound, and loaded with extra features, the new Criterion Collection releases have finally brought these films to the standard they deserve. I would like to point out one of the vast improvements that can now be enjoyed–an understanding of the language. For years, I have watched Rome: Open City, only to be disappointed each time by the lack of proper subtitles. To be certain, the power of Rossellini’s film about the occupation of Rome by the Nazis during wartime does not need each word documented onscreen for the audience not proficient in Italian. However, in a recent classroom experience, I was amazed at how just my mediocre knowledge of the language improved the moments of humor as well as those of horror. If only for this, we should be grateful. Below, I’ve added three random places where I think the subtitling has improved an audience’s understanding of, and enjoyment of the film.

The first is a moment that is clearly understandable in the film. Pina is caressed by a German soldier before Francesco is taken out of the building. She is consoling a woman whose son has just been taken away, and must stand up for herself–a moment of strength for her as well as the women around her. In the old DVD release, we only hear German words, without subtitles. Now, we know what he said.

Pina Abused_Old Version

Pina Abused_New Version

Next, we have a better sense of the quasi-lesbian relationship between Ingrid and Marini.  When Ingrid calls in the old version, she merely breathes into the phone, “I’m waiting.”  But now, we have a clearer picture of the relationship between the pair.

Betrayal_Old Version

Betrayal_New Version

And finally, a moment of humor.  One of the great aspects of Open City is its use of humor to balance the drama.  When the little rebels set off a bomb after curfew, they must then run home and face, perhaps, a scarier judge–their parents.  Although the screaming of the children is enough to realize that they’re getting a well-deserved whacking for threatening their lives by staying out after dark, these new subtitles clear it up a bit.

There You Are_Old Version

There You Are_New Version

As a bonus, a line of dialogue that was lost on non-Italian speakers before, is restored thanks to some subtitles.  Now, we can all laugh at something that I know my parents have said to me:

There You Are_Bonus

Just another reminder that although film is a visual medium, and Rossellini’s film has the power to move audiences to tears without knowing all the details of the dialogue, these new subtitles are a wonderful addition.

-Rob Ribera