Italy Cinematography – Neorealism

The varied season of Neorealism

Despite the harsh war climate, the early 1940s also saw the development of an artistic and cultural debate, which continued those of the previous decade and at the beginning of which the term Neorealism was used (v.)

According to, an authoritative critic such as GC Castello (The Italian cinematographic Neorealism, 1954) established the starting date of Neorealism in 1945 and with the film Roma città Aperto by Roberto Rossellini, specifying however that there were some precedents of the movement, identified, in strict chronological order, in the films Lost in the dark (1914) by Nino Martoglio and Roberto Danesi, 1860 by Blasetti, and Men on the bottom (1941) by Francesco De Robertis, to the point of tracing the most immediate antecedents in three works from the early 1940s: Quattro passi tra the clouds (1942) by Blasetti, Children look at us by V. De Sica and Ossessione (1943), the first work by Luchino Visconti. Names that, as claimed by Paul Virilio (The many fathers of Neorealism, in “L’lustration italiana”, ns, March 1986, 28, pp. 98-104), can be defined as the many fathers of Neorealism, even if the scholar French thought of identifying these fathers above all in the cinedocumento of the First World War and in the figure of L. Comerio, whom he defines as “the spiritual father of Neorealism”, with particular reference to Paisà (1946) by Rossellini. An evocative thesis, which emphasizes the documentary value that these directors’ gaze on reality contains and which in Paisà combines recited scenes with documentary images. But a new vision of reality is already present in the Visconti di Ossessione, daring in the choice and design of characters,

Attention to details of the environment and common characters reserved the Blasetti of Quattro passi tra le clouds, also important for the presence, as scriptwriter and scriptwriter, of Zavattini, a true deity of the neorealist season, who started his great cinematographic season with this film, which was then continued with the screenplay of I Bambini Watch Us, the beginning of the fruitful collaboration with De Sica. With the end of the war, Neorealism, which entered its central phase with Rome as an open city, presented some of the main aspects of this trend: the preference for en plein air shooting, the use of generally non-professional actors, group collaboration at script and, above all, attention to news and history. Rome open city came out in the year of the Liberation (1945) and bears the signs of the tragic of history – as well as Paisà and Germania anno zero (1948) – in scenes that have remained moving and of great intensity. The practice of the documentary, Michelangelo Antonioni, who in 1943 began shooting a short film which ended only in 1947, Gente del Po, a description of the miserable life of fishermen from the Po Valley. The steps towards his first fictional feature film continued with NU (Urban Neatness) (1948) and with the ‘film within the film’ L’amorosa menzogna (1949); but in the meantime Antonioni was also a screenwriter in the debut of Giuseppe De Santis, Tragic Hunt (1947), where he revealed an attention to the landscape and its function in the development of the action, as well as the influence of genres such as the western and the gangster film. In the neorealistic climate G. De Santis was perhaps the director at the same time most national-popular and most directly influenced by cinephile suggestions, as also appears in Riso amaro (1949), an important viaticum for future stars Silvana Mangano and Vittorio Gassman, a story of love and death, reminiscent of the great western scenarios; with There is no peace among the olive trees (1950), a pastoral drama, and with that remarkable interweaving of personal stories, inspired by a dramatic chronicle of the time, in Rome at 11 am (1952). Between a neorealistic system and the canons of the detective film and melodrama, Il bandito (1946) by Lattuada, architect and, above all, an excellent photographer, appeared, while Castellani in My son professor (1946) seemed to tone down his refined stylistic features for a popular environment, full of tender and melancholy moods. Luigi Zampa turned to the satirical comedy and, at times, endowed with a pungent gaze in the social field, in works such as Vivere in pace (1947), Years difficult (1948), written with Vitaliano Brancati, and The Honorable Angelina (1947), Anna Magnani, one of the most famous roles. In Naples and with the participation of many children (the scugnizzi) Luigi Comencini shot his first work, Proibito rubare (1948), which with the short documentary Children in the city (1946) revealed an uncommon ability, later maintained, in telling feelings and anxieties of the world of childhood.

Through Neorealism

If there can be, as we have seen, many fathers for Neorealism, there are also many and varied works that in Italy of the second post-war period brought to the fore directors who had trained in this humus. So much so that we can speak of ‘neorealist works’, that is films that are largely identified with a certain aesthetic and ethical project, and of ‘films of Neorealism’, works substantially unrelated to that project, but variously touched and contaminated by it, demonstrating its breadth and power of influence on post-war Italian cinema. Here then, within the variety of proposals, partisan films such as The sun rises again (1946) by Aldo Vergano or A day in life (1946) by Blasetti and Two anonymous letters (1945) by Camerini; a work with surrealist tones such as Rome free city (1946) by Marcello Pagliero; others of a popular environment such as the diptych Down with misery! (1945) and Down with wealth! (1946) by Gennaro Righelli; Genina’s rural drama on Maria Goretti, Cielo sulla palude (1949), which used the photography of GR Aldo, the most famous of the operators linked to the neorealist season; the musical melodrama O sole mio (1946) by Giacomo Gentilomo with Tito Gobbi, the same one who re-proposed Tosca in occupied Rome (Ahead to him trembled all of Rome, 1946, by Gallone); the multi-handed documentary on the Resistance Days of Glory (1945); a splendid ‘noir’ such as Fuga in Francia (1948) by Soldati. And, in the context of a logic of close dialogue between genres, the debut of the multi-handed documentary on the Resistance Days of Glory (1945); a splendid ‘noir’ such as Fuga in Francia (1948) by Soldati. And, in the context of a logic of close dialogue between genres, the debut of the multi-handed documentary on the Resistance Days of Glory (1945); a splendid ‘noir’ such as Soldati’s Escape to France (1948). And, in the context of a logic of close dialogue between genres, the debut of Pietro Germi, with the western and action tones of In the name of the law (1949), those, reminiscent of John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath (1940), of The Walk of Hope (1950), and with the detective film The city defends itself (1951). Perhaps the purest spirit of Neorealism is expressed, as well as by Rossellini, by the first films of the De Sica-Zavattini duo, where Zavattini’s theory of the ‘involuntary distraction’ of the camera, which captures aspects of reality that are only apparently marginal, and De Sica’s apparently unmediated gaze created works such as Sciuscià (1946) and Ladri di bicycles (1948), an expression, in the words of André Bazin, of a “phenomenology of history” (Qu’est-ce que le cinéma, 4. Une esthétique de la réalité: le néo-réalisme, 1962; trans. it. part. 1973, p. 311), with respect to which the subsequent fairy tale film Miracle in Milan (1951) highlighted the fabulous and surreal vein of the screenwriter. In the same year of Thieves of bicycles another great film by Visconti was also released, his second work La terra trema, perhaps the one most linked to the spirit of Neorealism thanks to the choice of a subject inspired by the Verghian Malavoglias and the use of the dialect, but within a conception and a plastic-pictorial taste of the image that has few equals in the history of cinema. At the end of the 1940s the neorealist season in the proper sense, however, seemed to close, even if, at least from the point of view of the fabula, a film like Under the sun of Rome (1948) by Castellani – with the Roma di borgata during the German occupation – appears halfway between Neorealism and 1950s comedy, laying the foundations of the so-called pink Neorealism; while in 1952 the director himself signed a work with a robust populist vein such as Two soldi of hope, whose picaresque spirit evokes Il novellino, but also Lo cunto de li cunti by GB Basile.

Italy Cinematography - Neorealism