With Don Pietro, Rossellini shows that the struggle for resistance was not carried out only by the “red partisans” but also by the men of Faith
The character of Don Pietro is in fact inspired by the figure of Don Giuseppe Morosini, a priest who actually lived in Rome and was killed by the Nazis in 1944 and Don Pietro Pappagallo who was also killed in the massacre of the Fosse Ardeatine in March 1944.
Don Pietro is a simple neighborhood priest, who initially seems to be detached from the fight for freedom carried out by the partisans. Instead, he too has a fundamental role in the struggle for freedom: he is who provides a hideout to those partisans who escape from the Nazis. He helps those, that being communists, they were considered “enemies of religion”, but that in reality, as he will answer to Bergman during the interrogation, they are those who, fighting in the name of freedom, are walking the path of the Lord. So when Manfredi asks for his help, he does not hold back even if he is faced with a difficult choice for a man of faith: to contribute to the cause of those who, in the name of the resistance, would surely have caused the death of men, even if they were German.
The Good Shepherd
Don Pietro remains a priest anyway … and therefore his Christian charity prevails over the friend/enemy difference..in this scene, against the opinion of the sexton, he is willing to give asylum to the German deserter. The image of the German officer asking for help from the priest has the dual purpose of showing the goodness of Don Pietro and witnessing the cruelty of the Nazis. The officer, in fact, has deserted not because he is afraid of war but because his spirit can no longer bear the cruelty of his “people” towards the conquered people. Don Pietro risks his life to help him because he knows that in front of him there is no longer an evil being but a sheep returning to his shepherd.
The good shepherd knows how to give words of comfort but also to remember responsibility and faults: When Pina, looking at a group of Nazi-fascist soldiers, says: “but God sees all this ?” whose meaning is “ if God really exists because he allows this to happen?”, Don Pietro answers: “are we sure not to deserve it? Are we sure we are not guilty for what is happening now?” This is a way to remind Italians of their responsibilities for 20 years of fascism …
A bit of Humor
Aldo Fabrizi, who plays Don Pietro, was also known as a comedy theater actor, so he brings a little humor to the tragic story told in the film..but these rare moments of lightness are the prelude to tragic events ….. After seeing Marcello’s laughter when Don Pietro slams the pan on the old man’s head to hide the weapons under his bed, in the next scene, we see Marcello crying desperately next to his mother’s lifeless body
Humor is therefore functional to amplify the emotional response of the public when the cruelty of Nazi evil is shown. Pina’s tragic death is an unexpected event, the public suddenly switches from laughter to extreme sadness….the emotion immediately following the compassion for the poor child is that of extreme hatred towards the German enemy.
You are without God
But even the good shepherd loses his calm when he is faced with absolute evil. Faced with the tortured body of Manfredi, all the goodness of Don Pietro disappears to give, for the first and last time, space to hatred and contempt for those who are not sons of God but of the devil.
“Oh, it is not hard to die well. It’s hard to live well” ( Don Pietro)
These are the last words of Don Pietro before facing the firing squad. These are words spoken with reproach to the priest who collaborates with the Nazis, but are also addressed to Romoletto and his band of young warriors, but in this case as words of consolation. But they are above all words addressed to the spectators, as a warning, so that everything that happened never happens again. But above all to remind them that freedom is a gift for which we must always fight.
Rossellini gives something to the Italian troops in this last moment of the film: humanity
In fact, Rossellini seeks a way to highlight the difference between the Italian soldier and the Nazi beast: when the platoon shoots no soldier aims at the body of Don Pietro. It is the Nazi official who has to kill the “holy man” with a gunshot. It is a way to forgive those who have not had the courage to rebel against the occupation forces, but who still find, even if at the last minute, the strength to rebel and refuse to serve the evil