Italian neorealism

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Italian neorealism indicates a significant period of film history and literature from 1943 to about 1954. The neo-realism , even Neorealismo or Neoverismo called, was still during the time of Italian fascism under the dictatorship of Mussolini and was founded by Italian writers, film writers and directors, including Roberto Rossellini , Luigi Zampa , Luchino Visconti , Federico Fellini and Vittorio De Sica . Neorealism was a response to fascism in Italy , artistically influenced by the poetic realism of France, but also politically motivated by Marxism . The first films of this style were made during the time when the country was occupied by the Germans in the north and the Allies in the south . The films of neorealism should show the unvarnished reality; suffering from dictatorship, poverty and oppression of the common people. Neorealism is first and foremost a “moral term”, according to Roland Barthes , which “represents exactly what bourgeois society tries to hide as reality”.


Unlike in Germany under National Socialism , artists in fascist Italy still had a relatively large amount of leeway. In 1942 , film theorist Umberto Barbaro was able to introduce the term neorealism into the discussion for the first time.

In 1942 the Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira made the first film with Aniki Bóbó with a clear hint of neorealism, but was hardly noticed because of Portugal's peripheral location and the lack of commercial success (the film received the “Honorary Diploma of the Second Movement of Cinema for the youth ”in Cannes).

In the same year Luchino Visconti's first major work of neorealism was written: Obsession (Ossessione) (1943) . Neorealism then experienced its breakthrough at the end of the Second World War with Rome, Open City (Roma, città aperta) (1945) by Roberto Rossellini , who also documented the liberation of Italy in Paisà in 1946.

The great directors of neorealism include Luigi Zampa Living In Peace (Vivere in Pace) (1946), The Deputy Angelina (L'onorevole Angelina) (1947), Difficult Years (Anni difficili) (1948), Vittorio De Sica , who with Shoe shiner (Sciuscià) (1946) and bicycle thief (Ladri di biciclette) (1948) created two masterpieces of neorealism, further Giuseppe De Santis Bitterer Rice (Riso amaro) (1949), Vendetta (Non c'è pace tra gli ulivi) (1950 ) and In the name of the law (In nome della legge) by Pietro Germi (1948).

Just as Luchino Visconti introduced Italian neorealism, it is also at its end. His critical analyzes of aristocratic society do not refer to the immediate reality of the time, even if Visconti wants to make this connection obvious in Sehnsucht (Senso) (1954).

The greatest authors of neorealism include Italo Calvino ( Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno , Ultimo viene il corvo ), Elio Vittorini ( Conversazione in Sicilia , Uomini e no ), Beppe Fenoglio ( Il partigiano Johnny ) and Carlo Cassola ( La ragazza di Bube ). Carlo Bernaris Tre operai (1934) and Cesare Paveses Paesi tuoi (1941), both of which were banned by the censors, are regarded as precursors . The literature of neorealism is characterized by the cultural post-war life of Italy, which also wanted to free itself artistically from fascism. Many of the authors were at least temporarily close to communism . The debate about what function realism and what should art perform, as well as the contribution art should make to the nation's cultural and political regeneration, has been discussed in major Italian newspapers and journals and has been an important part of neorealism itself.

Renato Guttuso's painting Crocifissione (1941) and his drawing Gott mit uns (1945) are considered milestones in neorealist painting.

Italian history

The Italian film landscape experienced its first heyday around the decade of the 20th century. The focus was on period films, monumental works that were labeled “art”, but the main focus was on the use of special effects and imposing crowd scenes (cf. films such as Nerone , 1909, The Last Days of Pompeii or Quo Vadis , both from 1913 , or Cabiria , 1914). So-called diva films with the stars of the time Lyda Borelli and Francesca Bertini ( Assunta Spina , 1915), melodramas that could also be sold worldwide, were also massively effective and successful .

In 1919 150 feature films were produced in Italy, but film production declined rapidly after the First World War. In 1921 there were only around 60 films left, and in 1930 the bottom had been reached with five films.

The Italian fascism under the "Duce" Benito Mussolini had initially failed to recognize the importance of cinema. There was no investment in propaganda or entertainment films. The Catholic censorship also forbade any criticism of the government. This changed in the following years. In addition to building a subsidized film industry, the Venice International Film Festival was founded in 1932. Three years later, the Centro Sperimentale de Cinematografia was founded , the first Italian film school, which is older than the French IDHEC .

The son of the " Duce ", Vittorio Mussolini , became editor of the film magazine Bianco e Nero in 1940 , in which art could make itself intellectually noticeable (a peculiarity of Italian fascism), as it were in countercurrent to official politics. So during a period of bondage there were niches in which one could freely think about the cinema, in which the debate that was supposed to point beyond fascism was already laid out. At the time of the "cinema of the white telephones", that is, the pompous, escapist entertainment film that was settled in the upper class, a counter-movement emerged which, with Umberto Barbaro, already in 1943 advocated real cinema, a cinema that is about human problems instead of representing a compensation for one's own poor life as a dream factory.

In his article published in Bianco e Nero , Barbaro made four demands for the new cinema to be created: “1. Down with the naive and mannered conventionality that dominates most of our production. 2. Down with the fantastic or grotesque fabrications that exclude human points of view and problems. 3. Down with any cold reconstruction of historical facts or adaptations of a novel, if it is not conditioned by political necessity. 4. Down with any rhetoric according to which all Italians are made of the same human dough, are jointly inflamed by the same noble feelings and are equally aware of the problems of life. ”(In: Chiellino, 1979)

The rejection of reconstruction and rhetoric meant, conversely, the creation of a “true” and realistic film that is more political action than cinematic narration (after all, every film is always part of a dramaturgical set of rules). In contrast to National Socialism in Germany, Italian fascism allows a certain pluralism in art. Against this background, with Neorealism , the second heyday of Italian cinema unfolded already during and vehemently after the end of the Second World War .

The “third bloom” can therefore be seen in the auteur filmmakers of the 1960s Federico Fellini , Pier Paolo Pasolini and of course Luchino Visconti , a time in which the so-called spaghetti westerns also emerged and the revival of the monumental, that is to say, was expected : " Sandal films " reflect.

International influences

The USA with the film noir emerging in the 1940s played no role in Italy at the time. Even the successful melodramas like Gone with the Wind from 1939 did not hit Italian cinemas until almost 20 years later. The great propaganda films of National Socialist Germany were well known in Italy, but neorealism was precisely about providing an alternative to these films. The German debris films only became known to a small audience in Italy around 1948 and therefore also played no role in neorealistic development.

The films from France are different. In the 1930s, under the directors Marcel Carné , Jean Vigo , Jean Renoir and René Clair, films were made in France that brought a hitherto unknown closeness to reality with simultaneous social criticism. Man is shown within his forlornness and condemnation in the effort to still be an upright man. Films like Hafen im Nebel (1938, M. Carné) or Toni (1935, Jean Renoir) show love, betrayal, an unjust world full of suffering and worries, they show disappointed outsiders from the working class or soldier milieu, and give important impulses for the Neorealism. It is not for nothing that film studies refer to the French pioneers as films of “poetic realism”.

Close ties between France and Italy can also be seen in terms of personnel: Luchino Visconti worked as Jean Renoir's assistant in France.

Requirements and characteristics

Neorealism is characterized by a number of formal and content-related reorientations that can be understood and derived from the decided counter-movement to established, historical cinema.

Barbaro calls for an end to the conventional, mannered stories that tell bypassing the lives of the audience; he wants to locate stories in the present, instead of relying on literary films and historical material. But above all he would like to see people treated in their differences; because they are not “made of the same human dough”. What is required is a completely new beginning for the film, with the help of a realistic film style.

Cesare Zavattini concretizes this by making clear milieu specifications: He calls for a “film about servants” who unmask the bourgeoisie because they mean a change in perspective. Since, as he is convinced, a “fight with the bourgeoisie” is taking place, this must also be reflected in the cinema. He works out two crucial features for neorealism: the patient approach and investigation of real life, which is completely different from the stories told, full of “tiny facts” that contain everything human, historical, determined and definitive. It's about "letting things speak for themselves almost as they are and making them as meaningful as possible". So there is nothing banal, because in every moment there is an “inexhaustible mine of reality”. It is now a matter of digging into it, because this is the only way for cinema to gain social importance.

Consequently, this means saying goodbye to the classic hero. This is useless because figures are never completely dissolved in reality. A hero excludes the viewer, causes in him inferiority complexes ; But it must be about making it clear to the audience that they are the "real main characters in life". Seen in this way, neorealism calls for (socio-) political action that goes far beyond making the cinema. Basically, the neorealist cinema marks the shift away from classic Hollywood - genre movie theater (it is a "counter-cinema", which takes place in the cinema).

The film is not shot in the studio , but at the original location. The performers are (also) laypeople, everyday people, whose costumes are not specially made but are taken from everyday life. Neorealism proves its artistry in the representation of simple people, it has a clear goal: the education for social progress. The narrated time is the immediate present , the narrative is open and elliptical. But there are big tragedies in the little stories, which are always about existential issues: poverty , injustice , sheer survival. Whereas film had so far contributed to the stabilization of the social budget of meaning, it should now, instead of creating meaning, tell reality in its disjointedness, elevate the fragment to style, allow confused thoughts. "Film should not add meaning to the experience that might otherwise remain disparate and empty, retrospectively and socially functionalized." (L. Engell)

Positions and classifications

André Bazin: The "factual picture"

The characteristics of neorealism were described and classified by important film critics at the time, but also later. André Bazin performs in his main work Was ist Film? how he classifies neorealism.

The central characteristic of neorealism is being attached to current affairs. If films of poetic realism in France in the 1930s could not even be located within a ten-year period, neorealist films show a fairly precise chronological order. Paisà by Roberto Rossellini (Italy 1946), the "classic of neorealism" (Jerzy Toeplitz) takes place shortly before the time of the shooting and describes the American occupation and liberation of Italy in 1945. Rome, open city , was filmed in 1945 and is set in 1944, still at the time of the Nazi regime.

This is why Bazin calls the “Italian films” (the term neorealism only comes through later as a term) “reconstructed factual reports”, even if the main theme of the films is timeless: the plot is not. Neorealism has a high documentary value, since the scripts are so inextricably linked to the epoch described. In Italy, liberation, with its specific social, moral and economic forms and consequences, also plays a decisive role within the cinema landscape, especially from an aesthetic point of view.

“Revolutionary humanism ” is the main merit of current Italian films. Within the film, the characters develop a "startling truthfulness" through their multilayered nature.

According to Bazin, the raw material for neorealism is, in addition to the veracity of the actor, the topicality of the script.

In comparison with Orson Welles ' Citizen Kane and Paisà , Bazin elaborates two concepts of “realism” that for him, although aesthetically and technically incompatible, are born out of the same spirit.

Paisà by Rossellini does not tell a self-contained, coherent story, but rather provides fragments of reality in images, arranged by their chronological, inherent time. Complex actions are reduced to short fragments; what seems laconic is realistic in the deepest sense, because this is how our perception works: sketchy, picky, but, in the best case, recognizing the big picture in the small. The facts are linked into a logical context in the mind of the viewer, jumping, not interlocking.

"Facts are facts, our imagination uses them, but they do not have the function a priori to serve it" - in contrast to the classic cinematic narrative in which the facts are dismembered and lose their substance.

From the way, what and how Paisà is told (whose point of view the camera adopts, whose side it is on), Bazin concludes that the narrative unit does not consist of an “attitude”, but rather the “fact” in itself taken ambiguously, nothing more than a fragment, but fills itself with meaning due to other "facts" through intellectual activity (establishing relationships between "facts"). The integrity of the individual fact remains, but as a whole they all have a higher meaning. In neorealism, the director's work consists in choosing the “facts” wisely.

Bazin suggests the “factual picture” as a decisive achievement of neorealism: an image which, viewed in pieces, carries within itself the meaning of all previous reality, which builds up relationships with other “factual pictures” that is dense and independent.

Gilles Deleuze: The "time picture"

Gilles Deleuze goes further than Bazin in his description of neorealism. According to him, film is the only art form capable of representing time. Until neorealism, this was only possible with the help of the "motion picture", in other words: everything, action , space, narration , setting , dramaturgy is defined and finds its limits in the inner movement that underlies everything. The result was a “constructed time”: Since neorealism considers construction, narration, dramaturgy and movement to be unimportant, action and spatial structures are dismantled. The fragmentary, fragmentary, takes the place of the meaningful construct. Encounters, stations, episodes guide the camera, coincidences and uncertain chains structure the narrative. That is, the fragmentation of space and action shows the decomposition of time. It detaches itself from space and action, becomes “pure time”. In neorealism, a picture of time becomes possible that is not built up through action and expectation. The same applies to the film as a “meaning-image. The experience of meaning is not only a thematic focus, but also an aesthetic construct of neorealism. "(Engell)

Previously, a film image was there to describe action, to show movement, but now characters appear who see instead of acting. Neorealism abandons sensorimotor situations (situations in which action is described as triggering or as a consequence), and optical situations increasingly appear in their place: “The figure itself becomes a spectator, so to speak. She moves in vain, runs in vain and rushes in vain, insofar as the situation in which she finds herself exceeds her motor skills in every respect (...). Hardly able to intervene in an action, it is at the mercy of a vision, is pursued by it or pursues it itself. ”(Deleuze) Ossessione by Luchino Visconti is therefore rightly regarded as a forerunner of neorealism.

The loosening of the contexts of meaning is the starting point for the new film image: an image that has a future because even the smallest irregularities are able to break out of the action schemes. "The crisis of the action image necessarily leads to a pure optical-acoustic image." (Deleuze)

Deleuze accuses Bazin of still being stuck in the real with the “factual image”, of arguing on the level of the material. He claims to have recognized that neorealism has also led much more into the mental world, the world of thinking, and changes conditions there because it expands it.

Because the new opto-acoustic situations represent a patchy reality that is no longer driven by action or movement; which no longer relies on the contexts of meaning through space and time, but which, through its fragmentary situationalism as such, both suspends time and allows it to become pure time, as well as suspends the structure of meaning; therefore, according to Deleuze, aspects of meaning move “directly into a central function “(Engell).

But Deleuze also starts from the assumption that neorealism doubles reality. However, this starting position, which Zavattini represented as well as Pasolini, is a mistake. Because even if there are similarities to reality in neorealistic film, in terms of content or structure, one of the basic prerequisites of cinema is that it is precisely not reality, nor is it duplicated.

The end of neorealism

There can be no neorealism in its purest form, since it demands from a film the opposite of everything that characterizes film. The detachment of every meaningful, plot-like structure is impossible; It is impossible to reproduce reality; every setting already contains form, structure, meaning, and continuity. In neorealism, there is a gap between claim and reality.

If Zavattini demanded that neorealism should not try “to invent a story that resembles reality, but to present reality as if it were a story”, then that is the crux of the problem. For the viewer, it doesn't matter whether a film tells a story that is closely tied to reality or a reality that can be pressed into the form of a cinematic story - because it is precisely through storytelling that the film differs from that Reality.

Historically, the end of neorealism has been fueled by the fact that the United States made the provision of post- war reconstruction aid conditional on the absence of a socialist - communist government in Italy . When the Christian Democrats won the elections by a large margin in 1948 and the dollar flowed to Italy with the Marshall Plan in 1949, the neo-realistic film, which criticized and attacked reality, came at an inconvenience for those in power. It was made more difficult for independent producers and filmmakers to finance “difficult” films by the government installing a central film administration and a general directorate for cinematography, which decided on the producers’s monetary bonuses.

These committees did not censor any scripts, but their decision to borrow from the banks depended on them.

The end of neorealism is therefore linked on the one hand to the inherent gap between claim and reality, a gap that the filmmakers were only able to bridge meaningfully in their works during a brief exceptional situation; At the same time, the external circumstances favored classic narrative cinema, so that less and less space was left for the already commercially insignificant neorealism.

In summary, what director Alberto Lattuada said in 1958 applies to neorealism : “It was a cinema without bias, a personal and not just an industrial product, a cinema full of real belief in the language of film, in a film as a weapon of education and social progress. "


In the film La dolce vita by Federico Fellini , the actress Sylvia ( Anita Ekberg ) is asked by a reporter whether Italian neorealism is dead. The translator, who has previously translated every trivial question from English into Italian, does not pass the question on, but only replies: "He is alive!"



Giuseppe De Santis

  • Caccia tragica (1947)
  • Riso amaro ( bitter rice , 1949)
  • Roma, ore 11 (1952)

Luchino Visconti

Roberto Rossellini

Vittorio De Sica

Web links