Italian Neorealism (1943 – 1952)

Italian Neorealism - So The Theory Goes - Evolution of Cinema

The 1940s saw the emergence of the Italian Neorealist film. Films in this style often depict the struggles of Italy’s working class. The Italian Neorealism movement’s origins can be traced back to Italy after World War II when many of its citizens struggled to make ends meet.

Non-professional actors were used, scenes were shot on location, lines of dialogue were made up on the spot, and there was no moral censorship in the films.

The History of Italian Neorealism

After WWII, not only did Mussolini’s government fall to the wrecking ball but so did the Italian state itself. All of Italy’s film studios were bombed so that no more classic Italian films would be made.

Significant changes occurred in local cinema after Mussolini fell from power in 1943, giving rise to a new genre in the entertainment industry. The film industry was rocked by this brand-new movement in Italy and the countries to its immediate north and south.

It was incredibly challenging for filmmakers to create films because there were neither sufficient funds nor enough studio space available. Things snowballed, and soon the best filmmakers in the country had figured out how to deal with the problem. Simply put, this marked the beginning of Neorealist thought in Italian cinema.

Notable Filmmakers

The foundations of Italian Neorealism were laid by many prominent figures, including Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, and Vittorio de Sica. As social and political climates shifted, so did the films’ themes and messages.

At this time, studios and directors were willing to invest in films highlighting social problems and ordinary people’s plight. Italian Neorealism focused on social and political issues rather than individual ones.

Giuseppe De Santis

Guiseppe De Santis was an important figure in Italian cinema as one of the forefathers of the Neorealist movement and a Communist committed to populist filmmaking. De Santis’s work has been largely left out of the canon of traditional cinematic teaching, even though it makes a significant contribution to the field. In the first comprehensive study of De Santis’s life and work, Antonio Vitti investigates the director’s career and examines the reasons for his marginalisation in Italian cinema and the academy.

Vittorio De Sica

Over the course of his 55-year career, De Sica directed 35 films and appeared in over 150 others. In 1917, he made his acting debut in a minor role in a silent film.

De Sica’s directing work is widely considered more significant than his acting, though he continued to act until the end of his life. The works of early De Sica are the foundation of Neorealism. After World War II, when Neorealism was at its height, director Vittorio De Sica made four films that earned him international acclaim and made him one of the most celebrated filmmakers in history.

  • Sciuscià (1946)
  • Ladri di biciclette (1948)
  • Miracolo a Milano (1951)
  • Umberto D. (1952)

Federico Fellini

Acclaimed Italian director Federico Fellini is often credited with establishing Italian Neorealism in the years following World War II. Fellini’s involvement with the Italian Neorealism movement began when the famous director Roberto Rossellini visited his Funny Face Shop, where he was drawing caricatures of American soldiers.

Rossellini asked Fellini to pen some lines of dialogue for the director’s Neorealist film Rome, Open City. After working together for some time, Fellini co-produced and co-direct his first feature film, Luci del varietà. The film was bombed at the box office, but it was the beginning of his successful career as a director. Watch four of Fellini’s neorealist films below.

Key Films

  • Ossessione (1943)
  • Rome, Open City (1945)
  • Germany, Year Zero (1948)
  • La Terra Trema (1948)
  • Bicycle Thieves (1948)
  • Bitter Rice (1949)
Ossessione (1943)

Ossessione, directed by Luchino Visconti and released in 1943, is an Italian neorealist film based on James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. It tells the story of Gino, a drifter who gets entangled in a passionate but doomed love affair with Giovanna, a woman trapped in a loveless marriage to a brutish older man, Giuseppe. Their affair leads to murder and ultimately tragic consequences as guilt, suspicion, and desperation unravel their lives.

Visconti’s direction, combined with powerful performances by Clara Calamai and Massimo Girotti, creates a haunting exploration of deceit, and moral decay.

Germany, Year Zero (1948)

Germany Year Zero, the final installment of Roberto Rossellini’s acclaimed War Trilogy, is presented here in a brand new restoration.

A young boy named Edmund, only twelve years old at the time, struggles to provide for his family in the ruined city of Berlin in the immediate aftermath of World War II. His father is sick, and his brother isn’t registered to work. Edmund, abandoned in the devastated city, becomes involved in illegal activities and the destructive influence of a former teacher who sympathises with the Nazis. A powerful commentary on the aftermath of war and the loss of innocence.

La terra trema (1948)

The Valastra family has been fishermen in the Sicilian village of Aci-Trezza for generations. When Antonio Valastra returns from the war with suggestions to change the villagers’ working habits, he alienates some of the villagers, who have grown accustomed to their difficult circumstances despite the village’s poverty and hard work. Antonio is arrested and thrown in jail for speaking out against the fish merchants, but he manages to win over the hearts of many of the townspeople in the process.

BIcycle Thieves (1948)

Directed by Vittorio De Sica and released in 1948, Bicycle Thieves is a cornerstone of Italian neorealism. The film follows Antonio Ricci, an impoverished man in post-war Rome, whose livelihood depends on his bicycle. When it is stolen, he and his son Bruno scour the city in a desperate search, confronting societal indifference and personal despair.

Italian Neorealism is a film movement that emerged in the 1940s as a reaction to fascist ideology and ultimately transformed the industry. Poverty and the struggles of Italy’s working class in the years following World War Two were central themes in these films.

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