Italian neorealism

Italian neorealism

Italian neorealism is a style of film characterized by stories set amongst the poor and working class, filmed on location, frequently using nonprofessional actors. Italian neorealist films mostly contend with the difficult economical and moral conditions of post-World War II Italy, reflecting the changes in the Italian psyche and the conditions of everyday life: poverty and desperation.


The neorealist style was developed by a circle of film critics that revolved around the magazine "Cinema", including Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Gianni Puccini, Cesare Zavattini, Giuseppe De Santis, and Pietro Ingrao. Largely prevented from writing about politics (the editor-in-chief of the magazine was none other than Vittorio Mussolini, son of Benito Mussolini), the critics attacked the "telefono bianco" films that dominated the industry at the time. As a counter to the poor quality of mainstream films, some of the critics felt that Italian cinema should turn to the realist writers from the turn of the century.

The neorealists were heavily influenced by French poetic realism. Both Antonioni and Visconti had worked closely with Jean Renoir. Additionally, many of the filmmakers involved in neorealism developed their skills working on calligraphist films (though the short-lived movement was markedly different from neorealism). Elements of neorealism are also found in the films of Alessandro Blasetti and the documentary-style films of Francesco De Robertis. Two of the most significant precursors of neorealism are "Toni" (Renoir, 1935) and "1860" (Blasetti, 1934).


Neorealist style does not have an inherent political message. The most common attribute of neorealism is location shooting and the dubbing of dialogue. The dubbing allowed for filmmakers to move in a more open mise-en-scène. Principal characters would be portrayed mostly by trained actors while supporting members (and sometimes principals) would be non-actors. The idea was to create a greater sense of realism through the use of real people rather than all seasoned actors. The rigidity of non-actors gave the scenes more authentic power. This sense of realism made Italian neorealism more than an artistic stance, it came to embody an attitude toward life.

Ideologically, the characteristics of Italian neorealism were:

# a new democratic spirit, with emphasis on the value of ordinary people
# a compassionate point of view and a refusal to make facile moral judgments
# a preoccupation with Italy's Fascist past and its aftermath of wartime devastation
# a blending of Christian and Marxist humanism
# an emphasis on emotions rather than abstract ideas Stylistically, neorealism was:

# an avoidance of neatly plotted stories in favor of loose, episodic structures that evolve organically
# a documentary visual style
# the use of actual locations--usually exteriors--rather than studio sites
# the use of nonprofessional actors, even for principal roles
# use of conversational speech, not literary dialogue
# avoidance of artifice in editing, camerawork, and lighting in favor of a simple "style-less" style The beginnings of Italian Neorealism can be found with the director Roberto Rossellini and his movie, "Rome, Open City". It is a movie about the collaboration of the Catholics and Communists fighting the Nazi occupation of Rome shortly before the American army liberated the city. Some of the footage is reported to have actually been shot during the Nazi retreat out of the city. Parts of the film are conventional and some stereotyped. Rossellini wanted to convey the cruel atmosphere that existed during Nazi occupation, and many of the film's narrative elements are based on actual events during this time.

If Rossellini brought neorealism to the forefront of world cinema, it was Vittorio de Sica who sustained the movement. He collaborated with scriptwriter Cesare Zavattini on all of his neorealist films. One of his greatest and most widely known films is "Bicycle Thieves". In this film there is a Chaplinesque blend of pathos and comedy. The film is acted entirely by nonprofessionals and consists of simple events in the life of a laborer. The film is about the protagonist getting a job (at the time of the movie, 25% of the Italian workforce was jobless) and in order to get to work, the protagonist has to get his bicycle out of hock. In order to do that, the protagonist and his wife have to pawn their sheets and bedding (her wedding dowry.) On his first day at work, the bike is stolen. The rest of the movie deals with the attempts to recover the bike. It touches on Italy's institutions and cultures--the government bureaucracy, political parties, the Church, popular beliefs, neighborhoods, the family, soccer. It is a painful realization for the protagonist's son, Bruno, that his father is human and not the super hero that he considers his father to be.

"Bicycle Thieves" stands alongside Rossellini's "Rome, Open City" as a neorealist achievement. It was, however, not without its own controversy. The film offered no slick solutions and so fell between the firing lines of the country's ideological debate--to conservatives it was impermissible to show society's flaws so brazenly, to the left, it lacked analysis and a clear agenda for social change. De Sica comments, "My films are a struggle against the absence of human solidarity. . .against the indifference of society towards suffering. They are a word in favor of the poor and unhappy."Fact|date=April 2008

Italian Neorealism virtually ended in 1952. Liberal and socialist parties were having a hard time presenting their message. Levels of income were gradually starting to rise and the first positive effects of the "Ricostruzione" period began to show. As a consequence, most Italians favored the optimism shown in many American movies of the time. The vision of poverty and despair, presented by the neorealist films, was demoralizing a nation anxious for prosperity and change. The views of the postwar Italian government of the time were also far from positive, and the remark of Giulio Andreotti, who was then a vice-minister in the De Gasperi cabinet, about neorealist movies ("dirty laundry that shouldn't be washed and hung to dry in the open") remained famous to this day.

Italy's move from individual concern with Neorealism to the tragic failure of the human condition can be seen through Federico Fellini's films. His early works "Il bidone" and "La Strada" are transitional movies. The larger social concerns of humanity, treated by neorealists, gave way to the exploration of the individual. His needs, his alienation from society and his tragic failure to communicate became the main focal point in the Italian films to follow in the 1960s. Similarly, Antonioni's "Red Desert" and "Blow-up" take the neo-realist trappings and internalize them in the suffering and search for knowledge brought out by Italy's post-war economic and political climate.


The period between 1943 and 1950 in the history of Italian cinema is dominated by the impact of neorealism, which is properly defined as a moment or a trend in Italian film, rather than an actual school or group of theoretically motivated and like-minded directors and scriptwriters. Its impact nevertheless has been enormous, not only on Italian film but also on French New Wave cinema and ultimately on films all over the world.

Significant works

Precursors and influences

* The works of Giovanni Verga
* "1860" (Alessandro Blasetti, 1934)
* "Toni" (Jean Renoir, 1935)
* "La nave bianca" (Roberto Rossellini, 1941)
* "Aniki-Bóbó" (Manoel de Oliveira, 1942)
* "Cristo si è fermato a Eboli" (novel, Carlo Levi, 1947)
* "Ossessione" (Luchino Visconti, 1943)

Main works

* "Roma, città aperta" (Roberto Rossellini, 1945)
* "Sciuscià" (Vittorio De Sica, 1946)
* "Paisà" (Roberto Rossellini, 1946)
* "Germania, anno zero" (Roberto Rossellini, 1948)
* "Ladri di biciclette" (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
* "La terra trema" (Luchino Visconti, 1948)
* "Bitter Rice" (Giuseppe De Santis, 1949)
* "Stromboli" (Roberto Rossellini, 1950)
* "Umberto D." (Vittorio De Sica, 1952) — filmed in 1951, but released in 1952. Many film historians date the end of the Neorealist movement with the public attacks on the film. [Bordwell, David & Thompson, Kristin. "Film Art; An Introduction". 8th edition. p. 461]
* "La strada" (Federico Fellini, 1954)

Major figures

* Vittorio De Sica
* Federico Fellini
* Roberto Rossellini
* Luchino Visconti
* Cesare Zavattini

ee also

*Cinema of Italy


External links

* [ GreenCine primer on Italian Neo-Realism]
* [ Comprehensive interview with Suso Cecchi d'Amico - the legendary screenwriter from the Neo-Realism period]

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