Roberto Rossellini's Paisan (originally Paisa) is one of the best-known and most important of the postwar Italian neorealist films; certainly it has one of the finest pedigrees, representing the combined talents of two of Italy's most prestigious filmmakers. The second of Rossellini's "war trilogy" (bracketed by Open City and Germany Year Zero), Paisan is divided into six episodes, each elucidating upon the tenuous relationship between the recently liberated Italians and their American liberators. In the first episode, Joe From Jersey (Robert Van Loon), assigned to guard a taciturn Sicilian woman (Carmela Sazio), tries to communicate with his monolingual prisoner. Next, a black MP (Dotts Johnson) is robbed of his shoes by an impoverished Neopolitan street urchin (Alfonsino Pasca). This is followed by an episode set in Rome, where drunken GI Fred (Gar Moore) is reunited with a streetwalker (Maria Michi) whom he's met before but does not recognize. In Florence, American nurse Harriet (Harriet Medin) and an Italian partisan (Gigi Gori) dodge bullets as they make their way through enemy-held territory in search of Harriet's lover. Next comes a comic interlude involving a theological argument between a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew and a group of Fransiscan monks. The film concludes with a bloody confrontation in the Po Valley between the OSS and a band of intractable Germans who refuse to surrender. Everyone who's ever seen Paisan has his or her favorite episode: by consensus of opinion, the most popular vignettes are the Naples episode (largely adlibbed by actors Dotts Johnson and Alfonsino Pasca) and the thrilling Florentine vignette with Harriet Medin and Gigi Gori. Giulietta Masina, the wife of Federico Fellini, shows up in a bit role; Fellini himself collaborated on the screenplay with Rossellini and Annalena Limentani. Originally released at 115 minutes, Paisan was expertly edited to 90 minutes for American consumption by Stuart Legg and Raymond Spottiswoode.
by Hal Erickson synopsis