How Neorealism before 1950 affected film history. Realism is a term that is most often applied to novels and paintings in the nineteenth century which depict the ordinary details of human life in detail. It was a reaction to the excessive emotions of Romanticism…
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Instead of overblown and idealistic propaganda films celebrating the ideals of a fascist state, film makers turned to the simple lives of rural peasants, and the struggles of ordinary workers in the cities. The three most famous neorealist directors are Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica and Luchina Visconti. One critic notes that the neorealist movement is widely regarded to have started with Rossellini’s gritty and unsentimental about a resistance prieced Rome, Open City in 1945. This kind of film became famous for “a sparse style of shooting on actual locations, with mostly nonprofessional players, and emphasizing themes of basic human problems and issues.” (Hamilton, 2006, p. 61) Children often feature, as in the film Shoeshine by Vittorio De Sica, which tells the at times harrowing tale of two boys who dream of owning a horse and fall into the hands of some corrupt policemen. The realistic portrayal of the sufferings of the boys in prison, raises issues about the kind of society that Italy can and should be setting up now that the war is over. Another critic notes: “neorealism became the repository of partisan hopes for social justice in the postwar Italian state.” (Marcus, 1986, p. xiv). The films of Rossellini deal with the devastation that has been caused by the war in Europe, and he made a trilogy which explored how the poorer people in Italy and German came to terms with the turmoil. These films do not have a traditional narrative line, but show episodes which between them build up a picture of life in those difficult days. Small visual items can have symbolic meaning far beyond the immediate context of the film, and the skill of Rossellini and others was to use the camera to illuminate deeper issues through images. The camera work is the opposite of Hollywood’s slick and artificial interiors, preferring the rather stark and ugly landscape of the war-torn countryside, and the dirty streets where people have to scratch a living any way they can. The films were popular at the time, despite their lack of a clear plot. People learned to look at the films in a new way, as a window on life itself: “Even the Italian neorealist directors, who stress everyday reality in their films and deny the validity of invented stories, argue that their particular brand of everyday reality is not boring because of its complex echoes and implications” (Boggs and Petrie, 2000, p. 37) Another feature of the neorealist directors’ work was that it had universal appeal, despite being very firmly tied to local scenery. Rossellini’s vision of a bombed and derelict Berlin in Germany, Year Zero, for example, juxtaposes a blond child and the colossal ruins of the city, with tragic consequences. The overwhelming message of the film is the destruction and futility of war. Heaps of rubble obliterate the civilization that was there before, leaving the boy adrift and hopeless, with no past and no future. The second film in Rossellini’s trilogy, Paisan, depicts the American soldiers’ encounter with demoralized Italian rural people in different regions, distilling the experiences of the war years in to the faces and conversations of unsophisticated farm workers. The human cost of the war is depicted starkly, and there is newsreel footage interspersed with the fictional episodes. The director makes every effort to present the material in a clear, unadorned way, so that
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