Italian neorealism

Italian neorealism (Italian: Neorealismo), also known as the Golden Age, is a national film movement characterized by stories set amongst the poor and the working class, filmed on location, frequently using non-professional actors. Italian neorealism films mostly contend with the difficult economic and moral conditions of post-World War II Italy, representing changes in the Italian psyche and conditions of everyday life, including poverty, oppression, injustice, and desperation.

Italian neorealism
Rome Open City
A still shot from Rome, Open City (1945)
Years active1943–1952
Major figuresRoberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Cesare Zavattini, Luchino Visconti, Giuseppe De Santis, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Federico Fellini
InfluencesPoetic realism, Marxism, Christian humanism
InfluencedFrench New Wave, Cinema Novo Iranian New Wave


Italian neorealism came about as World War II ended and Benito Mussolini's government fell, causing the Italian film industry to lose its centre. Neorealism was a sign of cultural change and social progress in Italy. Its films presented contemporary stories and ideas and were often shot in streets as the Cinecittà film studios had been damaged significantly during the war.

The neorealist style was developed by a circle of film critics that revolved around the magazine Cinema, including 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 Vittorio Mussolini, son of Benito Mussolini), the critics attacked the Telefoni Bianchi films that dominated the industry at the time. As a counter to the popular mainstream films, some critics felt that Italian cinema should turn to the realist writers from the turn of the 20th century.

Both Antonioni and Visconti had worked closely with Jean Renoir. In addition, many of the filmmakers involved in neorealism developed their skills working on Calligrafismo 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 Jean Renoir's Toni (1935) and Alessandro Blasetti's 1860 (1934). In the spring of 1945, Mussolini was executed and Italy was liberated from German occupation. This period, known as the "Italian Spring," was a break from old ways and an entrance to a more realistic approach when making films. Italian cinema went from utilizing elaborate studio sets to shooting on location in the countryside and city streets in the realist style.[1]

Although the true beginning of neorealism has been widely contested by theorists and filmmakers, the first neorealist film is generally thought to be Ossessione by Luchino Visconti (1943). Neorealism became famous globally in 1946 with Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City, when it won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival as the first major film produced in Italy after the war.

Italian neorealism rapidly declined in the early 1950s. Liberal and socialist parties were having difficulties presenting their message. The vision of the existing poverty and despair, presented by neorealist cinema, was demoralizing a nation anxious for prosperity and change. Additionally, the first positive effects of the Italian economic miracle period – such as gradual rises in income levels – caused the themes of neorealism to lose their relevance. As a consequence, most Italians favored the optimism shown in many American movies of the time. The views of the post-war 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, characterized the official view of the movement: Neorealism is "dirty laundry that shouldn't be washed and hung to dry in the open".

Italy's move from individual concern with neorealism to the tragic frailty of the human condition can be seen through Federico Fellini's films. His early works La Strada (1954) and Il bidone (1955) are transitional movies. The larger social concerns of humanity, treated by neorealists, gave way to the exploration of individuals. Their needs, their alienation from society and their tragic failure to communicate became the main focal point in the Italian films to follow in the 1960s. Similarly, Antonioni's Red Desert (1964) and Blow-up (1966) take the neorealist trappings and internalise them in the suffering and search for knowledge brought out by Italy's post-war economic and political climate.


Neorealist films were generally filmed with nonprofessional actors, although in a number of cases, well-known actors were cast in leading roles, playing strongly against their normal character types in front of a background populated by local people rather than extras brought in for the film.

They were shot almost exclusively on location, mostly in rundown cities as well as rural areas due to its forming during the post-war era.

Neorealist films typically explore the conditions of the poor and the lower working class. Characters oftentimes exist within simple social order where survival is the primary objective. Performances are mostly constructed from scenes of people performing fairly mundane and quotidian activities, devoid of the self-consciousness that amateur acting usually entails. Neorealist films often feature children in major roles, though their characters are frequently more observational than participatory.

Open City established several of the principles of neorealism, depicting clearly the struggle of normal Italian people to live from day to day under the extraordinary difficulties of the German occupation of Rome, consciously doing what they can to resist the occupation. The children play a key role in this, and their presence at the end of the film is indicative of their role in neorealism as a whole: as observers of the difficulties of today who hold the key to the future. Vittorio De Sica's 1948 film The Bicycle Thief is also representative of the genre, with non-professional actors, and a story that details the hardships of working-class life after the war.

In the period from 1944–1948, many neorealist filmmakers drifted away from pure neorealism. Some directors explored allegorical fantasy, such as de Sica's Miracle in Milan, and historical spectacle, like Senso by Visconti. It was also the time period when a more upbeat neorealism emerged, which produced films that melded working-class characters with 1930s-style populist comedy, as seen in de Sica's Umberto D.[2]

At the height of neorealism, in 1948, Visconti adapted I Malavoglia, a novel by Giovanni Verga, written at the height of the 19th century realist verismo movement (in many ways the basis for neorealism, which is therefore sometimes referred to as neoverismo), bringing the story to a modern setting, which resulted in remarkably little change in either the plot or the tone. The resulting film, The Earth Trembles, starred only nonprofessional actors and was filmed in the same village (Aci Trezza) as the novel was set in.

More contemporary theorists of Italian neorealism characterize it less as a consistent set of stylistic characteristics and more as the relationship between film practice and the social reality of post-war Italy. Millicent Marcus delineates the lack of consistent film styles of neorealist film.[3] Peter Brunette and Marcia Landy both deconstruct the use of reworked cinematic forms in Rossellini's Open City.[4] Using psychoanalysis, Vincent Rocchio characterizes neorealist film as consistently engendering the structure of anxiety into the structure of the plot itself.[5]


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, the Polish Film School and ultimately on films all over the world. It also influenced film directors of India's Parallel Cinema movement, including Satyajit Ray (who directed the award-winning Apu Trilogy) and Bimal Roy (who made Do Bigha Zameen [1953]), both heavily influenced by Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948).[6]

Furthermore, as some critics have argued, the abandoning of the classical way of doing cinema and so the starting point of the Nouvelle Vague and the Modern Cinema can be found in the post-war Italian cinema and in the neorealism experiences.[7][8] In particular,

this cinema seems to be constituted as a new subject of knowledge, which it self builds and develops. It produces a new world in which the main elements have not so many narrative functions as they have their own aesthetic value, related with the eye that is watching them and not with the action they are coming from.[9]

The Neorealist period is often simply referred to as "The Golden Age" of Italian cinema by critics, filmmakers and scholars.

Significant works

Precursors and influences

The extent to which Italian neorealism was truly innovative continues to be debated among film historians. Despite its wide influence, some have argued that it was more a revival of earlier Italian creative works than a groundbreaking movement. Important forerunners of Italian neorealism include:

Main works

Major figures

See also


  1. ^ Thompson, Kristin. Bordwell, David. "Film History: An Introduction, Third Edition". McGraw Hill. 2010, p.330-331.
  2. ^ Bordwell, David. Thompson, Kristin. Film History: An Introduction. Postwar European Cinema: Neorealism and Its Context, 1945-1959. Pg. 333
  3. ^ Marcus, Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism (Princeton University Press, 1987) ).
  4. ^ Brunette Roberto Rosellini (Oxford University Press, 1987) and Landy "Diverting clichés: femininity, masculinity, melodrama, and neorealism in Open City" in Roberto Rosellini's Rome Open City (Cambridge University Press, 2004) ).
  5. ^ Rocchio, Cinema of Anxiety: A Psychoanalysis of Italian Neorealism (UT Press, 1999).
  6. ^ Anwar Huda (2004). The Art and science of Cinema. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. p. 100. ISBN 81-269-0348-1.
  7. ^ Miccichè, Lino (1975). Il neorealismo cinematografico italiano (in Italian). Dharavi: Marsilio. ISBN 978-88-317-7237-2. ISBN 88-317-7237-6.
  8. ^ Daniele, Romina (2011). Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, Il luogo della musica nell'audiovisione. Milan: RDM. p. 41. ISBN 978-88-904905-9-0.
  9. ^ Sainati, Augusto (1998). Supporto, soggetto, oggetto: forme di costruzione del sapere dal cinema ai nuovi media, in Costruzione e appropriazione del sapere nei nuovi scenari tecnologici (in Italian). Napoli: CUEN. p. 154.
  10. ^ Ronald Bergan, The Film Book (Penguin, 2011), p. 154.
  11. ^ Bordwell, David & Thompson, Kristin. Film Art; An Introduction. 8th edition. p. 461

Further reading

  • Mario Verdone, Il Cinema Neorealista, da Rossellini a Pasolini (Celebes Editore, 1977).

External links

1860 (film)

1860 is a 1934 Italian historical film directed by Alessandro Blasetti and starring Giuseppe Gulino, Aida Bellia and Gianfranco Giachetti.

The film presages Italian neorealism in that it was shot mainly on location. Some scenes were also shot at the Cines Studios in Rome. Also, most contemporaneous historical epics used a star to focus on grand historical characters. This film focuses on a character whom nobody knows or will ever know; a patriot riding to get the assistance of Giuseppe Garibaldi. This film (in its heralding of neorealism) illustrates how the average man plays a part in grand histories. The film also uses non-actors (a key element of Italian neorealism) and a rarity for its time and era.

Alessandro Blasetti

Alessandro Blasetti (3 July 1900 – 1 February 1987) was an Italian film director and screenwriter who influenced Italian neorealism with the film Quattro passi fra le nuvole. Blasetti was one of the leading figures in Italian cinema during the Fascist era. He is sometimes known as the "father of Italian cinema" because of his role in reviving the struggling industry in the late 1920s.

Bellissima (film)

Bellissima (1951) is an Italian neorealism film by Italian director Luchino Visconti. The film, which is a satire of the film industry, was shot at the Cinecittà studios. Alessandro Blasetti, a contemporary film director, appears as himself. Bellissima is the only feature film in Visconti's oeuvre with a predominantly comic tone.

Cinema Novo

Cinema Novo (Portuguese pronunciation: [siˈne.mɐ ˈ]) is a genre and movement of film noted for its emphasis on social equality and intellectualism that rose to prominence in Brazil during the 1960s and 1970s. It means "New Cinema" in Portuguese, which is the official language of Brazil, the movement's "home". Cinema Novo formed in response to class and racial unrest both in Brazil and the United States. Influenced by Italian neorealism and French New Wave, films produced under the ideology of Cinema Novo opposed traditional Brazilian cinema, which consisted primarily of musicals, comedies and Hollywood-style epics. Glauber Rocha is widely regarded as Cinema Novo's most influential filmmaker. Today, the movement is often divided into three sequential phases that differ in tone, style and content.

Cinema of Europe

Cinema of Europe refers to the film industries and films produced in the continent of Europe.

Europeans were the pioneers of the motion picture industry, with several innovative engineers and artists making an impact especially at the end of the 19th century. Louis Le Prince became famous for his 1888 Roundhay Garden Scene, the first known celluloid film recorded. The Skladanowsky brothers from Berlin used their "Bioscop" to amaze the Wintergarten theatre audience with the first film show ever, from November 1 through 31, 1895. The Lumière Brothers established the Cinematograph; which initiated the silent film era, a period where European cinema was a major commercial success. It remained so until the art-hostile environment of World War II. These notable discoveries provide a glimpse of the power of early European cinema and its long-lasting influence on cinema today.

Notable European early film movements include German Expressionism (1920s), Soviet Montage (1920s), French Impressionist Cinema (1920s), and Italian neorealism (1940s); it was a period now seen in retrospect as "The Other Hollywood". War has triggered the birth of Art and in this case, the birth of cinema. German Expressionism evoked people's emotions through strange, nightmare-like visions and settings, heavily stylized and extremely visible to the eye. Soviet Montage shared similarities too and created famous film edits known as the Kino-eye effect, Kuleshov effect and intellectual montage. French Impressionist Cinema has crafted the essence of cinematography, as France was a film pioneering country that showcased the birth of cinema using the medium invented by the Lumière Brothers. Italian Neorealism designed the vivid reality through a human lens by creating low budget films outside directly on the streets of Italy. All film movements were heavily influenced by the war but that played as a catalyst to drive the cinema industry to its most potential in Europe.

The notable movements throughout early European cinema featured stylistic conventions, prominent directors and historical films that have influenced modern cinema until today. Below you will find a list of directors, films, film awards, film festivals and actors that were stars born from these film movements.

Day by Day (film)

Day by Day (Spanish:Día tras día) is a 1951 Spanish drama film directed by Antonio del Amo. Shot in Madrid, it has certain characteristics similar to Italian neorealism.

Il Posto

Il Posto is a 1961 Italian film directed by Ermanno Olmi. It is an example of Italian Neorealism. In July 2018, it was selected to be screened in the Venice Classics section at the 75th Venice International Film Festival.

Lost Youth

Lost Youth (Italian: Gioventù perduta) is a 1948 Italian-language drama film directed by Pietro Germi. The style of the film is close to the Italian neorealism film movement. It was remade in 1953 as the British film Black 13.

Two important future film directors, Mario Monicelli & Antonio Pietrangeli, co-wrote the script.


Neorealism may refer to:

Neorealism (art)

Italian neorealism (film)

Indian neorealism

Neorealism (international relations)

New realism (philosophy)

Our Films, Their Films

Our Films, Their Films is an anthology of film criticism by noted Bengali filmmaker, composer and writer Satyajit Ray. Collecting articles and personal journal excerpts, it was first published in India in 1976; an English translation was published in The United States and United Kingdom in 1992. Some of articles were previously published in the bulletin of the Calcutta Film Society which Ray co-founded in 1947.As the title suggests, the book is presented in two sections: Ray discusses Indian film in the first section, and covers international topics such as Hollywood, Charlie Chaplin, Akira Kurosawa, and movements like Italian neorealism in the second section.

Poetic realism

Poetic realism was a film movement in France of the 1930s. More a tendency than a movement, poetic realism is not strongly unified like Soviet montage or French Impressionism but were individuals who created this lyrical style. Its leading filmmakers were Pierre Chenal, Jean Vigo, Julien Duvivier, Marcel Carné, and, perhaps the movement's most significant director, Jean Renoir. Renoir made a wide variety of films some influenced by the leftist Popular Front group and even a lyrical short feature film. Frequent stars of these films were Jean Gabin, Michel Simon, Simone Signoret, and Michèle Morgan.

Poetic realism films are "recreated realism", stylised and studio-bound, rather than approaching the "socio-realism of the documentary". They usually have a fatalistic view of life with their characters living on the margins of society, either as unemployed members of the working class or as criminals. After a life of disappointment, the characters get a last chance at love but are ultimately disappointed again and the films frequently end with disillusionment or death. The overall tone often resembles nostalgia and bitterness. They are "poetic" because of a heightened aestheticism that sometimes draws attention to the representational aspects of the films. Though these films were weak in the production sector, French cinema did create a high proportion of influential films largely due to the talented people in the industry in the 1930s who were working on them. The most popular set designer was Lazare Meerson. Composers who worked on these films included Georges Auric, Arthur Honegger, Joseph Kosma, and Maurice Jaubert. Screenwriters who contributed to many of the films included Charles Spaak and Jacques Prévert. The movement had a significant impact on later film movements, in particular Italian neorealism (many of the neorealists, most notably Luchino Visconti, worked with poetic realist directors before starting their own careers as film critics and directors) and the French New Wave.


A semidocumentary is a form of book, film, or television program presenting a fictional story that incorporates many factual details or actual events, or which is presented in a manner similar to a documentary. Stylistically, it has certain similarities to Italian Neorealism, such as the use of location shooting and employing non-actors in secondary roles. However, the viewer is not intended to mistake a semidocumentary for a real documentary; the fictional elements are too prominent.One of the first films of this kind was The House on 92nd Street (1945): Time used the term "semidocumentary" to describe this film in 1952. The producer of the film had previously worked on newsreels which inspired the film-making style.

In the late 1940s, semidocumentary films were often associated with film noir thrillers, sharing a commitment to on-location shooting, gritty realism, and understated performances. Several of Richard Fleischer's films had semidocumentary qualities, as did the productions of Louis de Rochemont.In the 1960s and 1970s the semidocumentary style faded. The standard documentary had blurred the difference between itself and fiction so much that there was viewer confusion regarding what they were seeing.Some examples of movies that have elements of semidocumentary in their style:

13 Rue Madeleine (1946)

Armored Car Robbery (1950)

T-Men (1947)

Boomerang (1947)

Bodyguard (1948)

Brute Force (1947)

Call Northside 777 (1948)

Canon City (1948)

He Walked by Night (1948)

Dragnet (1951)

Highway 301 (1950)

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

The House on 92nd Street (1945)

The Killers (1946)

Kiss of Death (1947)

Let Me Die a Woman (1978)

Mystery Street (1950)

The Naked City (1948)

Night Flight from Moscow (1973)

On Dangerous Ground (1952)

Panic in the Streets (1950)

The Racket (1951)

Side Street (1950)

The Street with No Name (1948)

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967)

Walk East on Beacon (1952)


A simulacrum (plural: simulacra from Latin: simulacrum, which means "likeness, similarity") is a representation or imitation of a person or thing. The word was first recorded in the English language in the late 16th century, used to describe a representation, such as a statue or a painting, especially of a god. By the late 19th century, it had gathered a secondary association of inferiority: an image without the substance or qualities of the original. Literary critic Fredric Jameson offers photorealism as an example of artistic simulacrum, where a painting is sometimes created by copying a photograph that is itself a copy of the real. Other art forms that play with simulacra include trompe-l'œil, pop art, Italian neorealism, and French New Wave.

Steel (1933 film)

Steel (Italian: Acciaio) is a 1933 Italian drama film directed by Walter Ruttmann and starring Piero Pastore, Isa Pola and Vittorio Bellaccini. The film was shot on location at the steel mills in Terni in Umbria. It was based on the novel Giuoca, Pietro! by Luigi Pirandello. With its semi-documentary style it was one of a number of films made in the Fascist era that serve as a precursor to Italian neorealism which emerged in the mid-1940s.

Un giorno nella vita

Un giorno nella vita ("A Day in Life") is a 1946 Italian war film directed by Alessandro Blasetti. It was entered into the 1946 Cannes Film Festival. American title: "A Day In the Life". This film was screened in 2009 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's retrospective "Life Lessons" Italian Neorealism and the birth of modern cinema.

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