"Cinema should accept, unconditionally, what is contemporary. Today, today, today." So went the mantra of Zavattini, the father of Italian Neo-Realism, a movement that called film back to the streets and the common people who inhabit them, eschewing contrived plots, professional... [more]
"Cinema should accept, unconditionally, what is contemporary. Today, today, today." So went the mantra of Zavattini, the father of Italian Neo-Realism, a movement that called film back to the streets and the common people who inhabit them, eschewing contrived plots, professional actors, and the artificiality of the studio environment. A direct response to Mussolini's nationalist cinema, which was predictably rife with melodrama and stereotype, Neo-Realism set out to portray contemporary social reality. The sacredness of the mundane was a value that flew in the face of fascism's heroic ideals, and the hardship and daily defeats of the lives of ordinary people were the reality that fascist art ignored. Adopting an aesthetic of poverty and pessimism, Neo-Realism gave birth both to De Sica's compelling, if meandering, narrative "The Bicycle Thief" and to Rossellini's ingenious "Roma, Citta Aperta," a film that theorists and cinephiles consider to be as central in the film canon as "Birth of a Nation" or "Citizen Kane."
While unpopular with audiences in postwar Italy, Neo-Realist cinema enjoyed great success abroad, especially in the United States. By 1949, however, the movement had begun to burn itself out, and the wholesale importation of films from Hollywood began to threaten the financial viability of filmmaking for anything but entertainment's sake in Italy. The Neo-Realists' commentary on fascism and the ruin it had made of the nation had run its course, and like so many other movements in Italian cinema, Neo-Realism died a rather quick, if incomplete death. Nevertheless, its formidable humanistic principles have been repeatedly resurrected as a challenge to up-and-coming Italian filmmakers grappling with the directorial process (and, arguably, to international directors such as Martin Scorsese). Both Antonioni and Fellini (who worked as a screenwriter for numerous
Neo-Realist films, including those of Rossellini) came to terms with their Neo-Realist roots by creating spot-on representations of modern alienation and insisting on Marxist critiques of history and culture.