The Golden Age of Italian cinema | Sunday Observer

The Golden Age of Italian cinema

4 April, 2021

Italian neorealism (Italian: Neorealismo), also known as the Golden Age, is a national film movement characterised 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 life, including poverty, oppression, injustice, and desperation.

History

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 who 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 which 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 utilizsng elaborate studio sets to shooting on location in the countryside and city streets in the realist style.

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 demoralising 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 favoured 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, characterised 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.

In the early 1950s, the neorealist torch was picked up by artists like Sicily’s Bruno Caruso, whose work focused on the warehouses, shipyards and psychiatric wards of his native Palermo.

Impact

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 rhe 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).

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. 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.

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

Comments