The art in the twentieth century was focused on progressive modernism that excludes conservative modernistic movement. The new world revealed progressive artistic forms that offered a new interpretation of the future, being the perpetuation of the present. In this context, neorealism in Italy featured change in culture and social development because Italian cinematography introduced modern ideas and aspects, involving murders in the street and depicting the poverty in the working class. The use of non-professional actors was also a distinctive feature during that time because it better conveyed the spirit of the War II period. The shifts in Italian conditions and psyche of everyday life, injustice, poverty, and desperation were among the major issues revealed in cinematography. However, the progressive vision of the twentieth century differed from the orthodox outlook on moral values and virtuous behavior. The noble sacrifice and righteous conduct have been replaced by the new perception of the artistic world. All these dimensions will be considered in more detail with reference to the outstanding and remarkable films of the Italian neo-realistic cinema.
Italian neorealistic cinema is distinguished by a range of stylistic characteristics which established vivid relationship between social reality of post-war period in Italy and film practice. Therefore, filming predominantly nonprofessional actors was also a typical feature of the artistic movement because it rendered the realistic pictures in a more efficient way. Numerous critics of the time emphasized the fact that the Italian film has achieved its position by breaking the links to the past and introducing new cinematic world in which radical innovations were involved. However, there were numerous debates concerning what was the core innovation of the genre. In response to this issue, Ruberto and Wilson argue, “by considering how neorealist films dismantle the traditional masculine protagonist of feature films, one opens up the cinematic image than the putative political commitments of the neorealist plot of filmmakers.” Hence, neo-realism was a sort of a moral weapon whose primary purpose was directed as the artistic tradition of the past. Thus, reality depends on representation because it shapes the construct of the film.
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Bicycle Thieves was among the most remarkable products directed by Vittorio De Sica. Its budget was small, and the film differed from the rough-and-ready fiction. Its narration was loosely based on the novel and ran the story of the theft who stole a bicycle from an artist whose perception of reality and common people was superior. The major plotline focuses on a common working-class man who cannot find job but is accidentally employed as a bill-poster. The timeframe refers to 1948, the time of high rate of unemployment in post-war Italy. The narrative focuses on Antonio Rich and his son Bruno who were in search for the stolen bicycle. In the context of the Italian neorealism, the story introduced a tangible shift from traditional narration with reference to the description of connected situations and events in the film. Therefore, this movie fits in the accepted standards of the time and perpetuates the reality in which common Italian people lived during difficult times after the war. At the same time, the movie represents a significant deviation from the traditional narration, which is the sign of the progressive thinking in Italia.
Further cinematographic works do not represent the pure neorealistic fictions to explore the allegorical dimensions. It is of particular concern to de Sica’s picture entitled as Miracle in Milan and to historical spectacle called Senso and directed by Visconti. According to Badly, Palmer, and Schneider, “De Sica’s Miracle in Milan abandons any attempt at a pseudo-documentary realism and narrates a fable or fairytale.” The film is an allegoric representation of the confrontation between the rich and the poor, as well as comic parody on the celebrated class struggle. The director described selfish and egoistic people who constitute the wealthy social stratum emphasizing their superiority over the poor because of the money, power, and influence. As it can be seen from the film, De Sica deviates from the traditions of neorealism and relies on the supernatural images and magical special effects, abandoning typical features of the chronological frameworks and rejecting the linking relations in the film plotline. The story ends with the poor leaving the place of the rich in the pursuit of the place, where common humanity and justice shape the foundation of life. From this movement, Italian cinema introduces the new reality while describing the problems of the working class in an alternative way.
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The Earth Trembles is an Italian film by Visconti which signifies to the rise of neorealism in the twentieth century. A loose adaptation of novel I Malavogila written by Giovani Verga in the nineteenth century included non-professional actors only. The setting is also placed in the village which was described in the novel. Specifically, the movie is an evident confrontation between the social and aesthetic vision of Visconti and the director’s personal outlook on decadent tragedy perpetuated in Italian neorealist dramas. The movie related to documentary fiction that contributed to the stylistic features of the neorealist movement. The use of fades creates the time passing effect, while engaging people in daily activities. The director keeps the viewer at a distance from the movie characters to achieve the ethical purposes and introduces a gesture of respect for people depicted in the film.
While discussing the role of Italian movies in facilitating progressive modernism, the attention should be paid to the analysis of aesthetics in these neorealist movies. Specifically, the fictional narrative conquers the public by the use of realistic tools and settings of rendering the main idea of the story. In this context, films can be considered real due to the accuracy of interpreting and representing historical reality with the maximum objectivity integrated into the characters and environment. Therefore, the aesthetics of such movies is largely identified by the extent to which these pictures seem real. Additionally, it should also be admitted that the essence and meaning of neorealistic films should be distinguished because they differ from the ones depicted before. Post-war Italian culture, therefore, gave rise to the political struggle and cultural revolution, promoting a foundation for the emergence and advancement of progressive modernist movement. Further, the “new” realism is a sort of the resistance to the previous, conventional norms in narrating the story. Italian culture signifies the symbolic construct that controls behavior and social environment and, therefore, the movie functions as the force of promoting new values and norms. Being progressive in nature, the Neorealism is also the result of the cultural and political conflict related to the loss of identity and social unity at the same time. Rome: Open City is among the brightest examples explaining the cultural confrontation and the nature of resistance. The story prepares the viewers for the disruptive and revolutionary style that establishes new habits, actions and behaviors that makes the spectator to shift abruptly from action to another. In such a manner, the director of the movie changes the audience’s consciousness, making it more open to changes. While considering the boundaries of neorealism and the degree it outstripped realism, it is possible to recognize the way directors and filmmakers perceive historical construct.
Neorealism can be considered as a cultural movement based on individual representations and perspectives. While creating movies, the directors were morally committed to the historical times they introduced in their pictures, including representated realities, experiences, and marginal culture. By examining the realistic representation of the post-war world, it is also possible to refer to the theoretical frameworks within which these cinematic traditions were shaped. While considering the new features of Italian cinematography, Haaland makes reference to the previous tendencies and movements that represented the past and the reality. In general, the new reality represented in Italian movies differs significantly from the reality represented in nineteenth century. In particular, Gunderson explains, “the Realist movement illuminated the plight of the common people, erasing preconceived ideas about proper subject matter in art and redrawing the boundaries to include the poor and the working class.” Hence, the attention to the working class still remained, although the virtuous behavior and the moral values differed in terms of their connection to Christian and orthodox movements.
The classical representation of realism refers to the literary works of Dickens. His novels reveal realistic movements that were typical of the Victorian era. For instance, in his essay “The Ghost of Art,” the novelist refers to the man who reminds of the portrait of generic personalities that are usually represented in history, Bible, or literature. The man turns out to be an artist’s model, but his face is recognizable. When Dickens describes the painting, it suggests that these literary pieces are grotesque because they satirize on the unimportance of material appearances. In other words, Dickens’s style in literature seeks to perpetuate the moment and describe a scene as it is motionless. Furthermore, the realistic representation of characters is possible through the detailed description of events, activities, and portrayal of appearances. All these aspects should conform to the orthodox traditions. In contrast to this, the twentieth century realism is more progressive and revolutionary. It is a sort of protection against the traditional norms, which hinder the artistic and literary development.
In conclusion, the Italian neorealism in cinema is characterized by the depiction of the new reality in which the reference is made to the working class and the poor to contrast them to the rich social stratum. In these cinematographic pieces, the preference is given to non-professional actors to emphasize the spirit of the time and make the audience believe in the new reality, which is deprived of the accepted morale. The world depicted in the movie refers to the major social vices, which are often hidden in conventional representations of the history. Therefore, new realism is a sort of an allegorical representation of the past in which all events are connected. In contrast to realism in the nineteenth century, this one deviates from the accepted behaviors and virtuous perception to highlight new progressive description of society. The moral commitment to the historic times is often revealed through the Italian cinematographic works such as The Bicycle Thieves, Rome: Open City, and The Earth Trembles. All of these fictions are premised on reality, or they make the audience believe that the film itself is the representation of reality. Therefore, these movies look more like documentaries, in which ordinary people were in the quest of a better life while being involved in ordinary daily activities. After all, the Italian new realism has given rise to the development of the new progressive movement, modernism, which was typical of a post-war period.
- Badley, Linda R., Barton Palmer, and Steven Jay Schneider. Traditions in World Cinema. New Brunswick: Rutegers University Press, 2006.
- Bicycle Thieves. Directed by Vittorio De Sica. 1948. New York: Criterion, 2007. DVD.
- Gunderson, Jessica. Realism. Mankato: The Creative Company, 2008.
- Haaland, Torunn. Italian Neorealist Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.
- Novak, Daniel. Realism, Photography and Nineteen-Century Fiction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
- Pierson, Inga M. Towards a Poetics of Neorealism: Tragedy in the Italian Cinema 1942-1948. Ann Arbor: ProQuest, 2008.
- Rocchio, Vincent F. Cinema of Anxiety: A Psychoanalysis of Italian Neorealism. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.
- Rome: Open City. Directed by Roberto Rossellini. 1945. Shenley: Arrow Films, 2005. DVD.
- Ruberto, Laura E. and Kristi M. Wilson. Italian Neorealism and Global Cinema. Delton: Wayne State University Press, 2007.
- Shiel, Mark Italian Neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
- The Earth Trembles. Directed by Luchino Visconti. 1948. Cinemax. DVD.
- Wagstaff, Christopher. Italian Neorealist Cinema: An Aesthetic Approach. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.