Italian neo-realism

Published: 2022-12-06
Italian neo-realism
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Wordcount: 1825 words
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Italian neorealism began as a form of cinematic expression when Fascists dominated Italy. According to Antonello (2010), Italian neorealism developed under challenging conditions and became the option by which Italian filmmakers could uniquely air their grievances. The earliest neorealist filmmakers tried what they could with the tools at hand under the watchful eyes of the opposing ruling class. Although these arrangements gave rise to tensions, the filmmakers succeeded in producing something unique, thus, giving them the opportunity to develop ideas in a new cinematic style (Brewer, 2010). During this period, Italy was governed by Fascists who saw art as valuable based on their usefulness. However, these films were not developed to serve the ideas of the fascists, but to attack them. The forces that shaped these films, the styles used to produce them through these tensions, and the other significant examples demonstrated the achievement of the Italian directors towards the end of World War II.

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Cladi and Webber (2011) acknowledged that the realist films illustrated the social issues that the Italians faced. A reaction to the highly criticized films of the Nazi period took a shameful approach to the lives of the Italians. In the words of Peter Bondanella, the neorealist filmmakers were looking for a new literary and cinematographic language that would allow them to address the pressing political issues through writing (Coleman, 2012). Films of the neorealist times emphasized poverty, and desperation experienced by the Italians after the Second World War. The conventional attributes o the neorealist film included social content, realistic treatment, political commitment, and historical actuality.

To use realism in their films, neo-realists shot in a style that resembles a documentary instead of using sets. They also used nonprofessional actors to deploy conversational speech rather than using highly scripted dialogues (Grespi, 2014). According to Hart (2012), critics in Italy did not consider Italian neorealism a school, but a trend in cinema that was influenced by social and historical conditions found in the nation between the 1930s and 1940s. Neorealism became a film style that reflected the lives of the poor and the wealthy. Often, realism would be emphasized, and performances were derived from scenes of ordinary people (Holdaway, 2012). Even though many believed that Rossellini was the pioneer of this new trend in cinema, the truth is that the concept of neorealism was introduced by Luchino Visconti, an Italian film director. He employed this concept when he directed the film, Ossessione in 1943.

In the period between 1943 and 1950, neorealism began to dominate the Italian cinema, and it emerged to be the essential film style of post-war Europe. However, its formation began in1936 when propagandists established modern Cinecitta studios and the Film School name 'Cinematography Experimental Center' (Minghelli, 2014). In addition to opening such schools, certain movements like Carlo Montuori gave full-year contracts to a team of cinematographers. Montouri applied his classic methods in creating Bicycle Thieves (1948), one of the favorite films produced during the neorealism movement. Deep insight into neorealism can be provided by analyzing essential films of the action.

According to Nowell-Smith (2012), Roberto Rossellini's Rome in the city is considered to be the earliest and most influential film. Indeed, the story was a shock for the Italians and the audiences around the globe. It revolves around the lives of the members of the Italian resistance during the German occupation of Rome. The film has characters such as Don Pietro, a local priest who is fighting to protect resistant workers; Pina and Manfredi (O'Leary & O'Rawe, 2011). Pina is a prominent member of women's resistance and a single mother who is engaged. Manfredi is a Marxist and an influential member of the opposition.

The film records the struggles of these individuals and other characters as they fight to free Italy from the Nazi. Rome Open City was shot towards the end of the war which made it difficult to complete. According to Pitassio (2014), the absence of sophisticated materials, lack f studio space and the scarcity of film stocked pushed Rossellini to apply simplicity of means that was responsible for the authenticity of his work. Besides, Rossellini is noted for the selection of location shooting and his understanding of lighting which adds the film quality.

The Rome Open City (1945) was filmed in Rome during chaos and poverty, and Rossellini showed the viewers the resistance movement within the nation (Schoonover, 2012). In this context, the most significant sequence of the film presents show Pina running and shouting after the car driven by the occupation forces that captured her husband. The scene ends with Pina being shot (Antonello, 2010). Rossellini preferred using inexperienced actors and actresses, liked filming in open spaces, and often employed ellipses in a sophisticated way to make the story complicated.

Rossellini did not use the climax which was common in Classical Hollywood. Instead, he let the viewers see the results of an incident and the emotions without showing the reasons. For many audiences, Rome Open City marked the beginning of neorealism. According to Brewer (2010), Rossellini and Visconti are both regarded as the fathers of neorealism although they adopted two separate styles of cinematography believed to represent the conflicting sides of the spectrum: - from the immediate approach of Rossellini to the study choices of Visconti.

Apart from the film, Rome Open City (1948), another movie from neorealism was Umberto D (1952) both directed by Vittorio De Sica Cladi and Webber (2011). These films depict real-life struggles during poverty. Coleman (2012) pointed out that the most unusual thing regarding neorealism that separates it from other cinematographic movements is its genesis of necessity. During the period when resources were insufficient, films were produced using anything at hand including the use of nonprofessional actors (Grespi, 2014). Interestingly, the use of anything at hand is what made the films authentically. In other words, these films did not focus on the present or the future but concentrated on the current struggles.

Hart (2012) outlined that the goal of De Sica in applying this approach was to look for the dramatic in ordinary situations that everybody considered insignificant. This is the goal that De Sica used to create Bicycle Thieves. Arguably, this film is an excellent and most famous example of neorealism movement. According to Holdaway (2012), Roberto Rossellini introduces a taste for simplicity, authorial intervention and location shooting that the successive filmmakers could create through great technical means and insertion of poverty. Rossellini may have triggered the neorealist movement in film, but Victorio De Sica developed it into a vulnerable style with his film, Bicycle Thieves (Minghelli, 2014). The film accounts for a journey of a man and his son as they look for a stolen bicycle. Set in Rome during the period of post-war, the Bicycle Thieves tells the story of Antonio Ricci, a poor man from Rome who has been unemployed for two years.

One day, Ricci is called for a job hanging movie posters within Rome by his local unemployment office. The job requirement is that Ricci must have a bicycle for the job (Schoonover, 2012). Ricci and his wife Maria have no option, but to sell their wedding linen to repair the old bike. Ricci's bicycle is stolen on the first day of the job. The remaining part of the film follows Antonio and his young son Bruno searching for the stolen bicycle throughout Rome. With the simple plot, the film is tugging at the audience's heartstring with its application of melodrama. In this case, a bicycle is a factor behind the father securing the job he needs to support his family (Nowell-Smith, 2012). Therefore, the bike represents the livelihood of the family and stealing it is like taking the hope of the family's survival. How the film was shot and the message it portrays give the movie the description of 'shockingly authentic.'

De Sica continued to use numerous stylistic devices used in the past neorealist films although he had financial support. He shot many films on location which helped to detonate place and time of the story. Since the shooting occurred in Rome, De Sica chose to use Roman language instead of standard Italian (Schoonover, 2012). This chose added to the sense of reality throughout the film since this is the real language spoken by the characters. As such, De Sica valued the authenticity of his characters and chose the characters wisely for their roles. According to Pitassio (2014), De Sica selected his actors for their direct visual without determining their behaviors. An example of how he used nonprofessional actors is assigning Antonio Ricci and his son, Bruno Ricci principle roles in the Bicycle Thieves. O'Leary and O'Rawe (2011) stated that the inexperienced actors playing Bruno and Antonio were carefully selected because of a certain level of mannerisms in their facial expressions and their walk. So, De Sica's preoccupation with upholding reality in the film helps to understand the struggle faced by Antonio and his family and the desperation of their situation.

De Sica's work on neorealism continued, and after the Bicycle Thieves, he created Umberto D. The two films have apparent similarities in the way they were filmed and theme they tend to express. In particular, the two films show the struggle of the time (Minghelli, 2014). From Umberto D, One scene shows the protagonist, Mr. Umberto being evicted from his home by his unresponsive landlady. Although the Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D have different stories, they focus on one theme: - suffering and this is what gives them authenticity. However, the similarities come from bare necessities (Nowell-Smith, 2012). That is the films use real locations for filming; they employ nonprofessional actors and utilizes any resource available. Again, the similarity brings out the aspect of authenticity in the movie.

Overall, neorealism was characterized by the reality of the time, the use of non-professional actors or actresses, the use of outside settings, a predominance of the documentary film that conveyed the society and the real world as well as the inclination for the representation of the poor rather than the wealthy. The neorealism also gave the viewers an impression of the real world. In brief, neorealism intended to help the viewer understand the reality. Space was not symbolic, and poverty and rumbles were not used metaphorically for the inner lives of the characters. Instead, they were an accurate reflection of social life and reality. The films, Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D were used to explain neorealism, and they captured a real authenticity fo the time of their release. The neorealism movement implied filming using limited resources and the dependence on the real world locations. Also, the fact that both films depicted a realistic story that reflected the society gave them the nature of realism.


BIBLIOGRAPHY \l 1033 Antonello, P. (2010). The ambiguity of realism and its posts: A response to Millicent Marcus. The Italianist, 30 (2), 257-261.

Brewer, J. (2010). Reenactment and neo-realism. In Historical Reenactment. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cladi, L., & Webber, M. (2011). Italian foreign policy in the post-cold war period: a neoclassical realist approach. European security, 20 (2), 205-219.

Coleman, D. S. (2012). Filming the nation: Jung, film, neo-realism and Italian national identity. Abingdon: Routledge.

Grespi, B. (2014). Italian Neo-Realism between Cinema and Photography....

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