Italian Neorealism

Films and Movie Memorabilia

The Italian Neorealism movement attempted to give a new degree of realism to the cinema, as it referred to stories of working class life and of the desperate struggles and social conditions of people set in the culture of poverty, oppression or injustice. Neorealism was a revolutionary breakthrough, not just for its technical style and raw filmmaking, but for the gritty realism of its story and poignant naturalism of its characters. Critic Andre Bazin described Neorealism as, “No more actors, no more story, no more sets, which is to say in the perfect aesthetic illusion of reality there is no more cinema.” Italian Neorealism came about as World War II ended and Benito Mussolini’s government fell, causing the Italian film industry to lose its center. Neorealism was a sign of cultural change and social progress in Italy. Its films presented contemporary stories and ideas, and were often shot in the streets because the 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 critics attacked the ‘white telephone films’ that dominated the film industry at the time, feeling that Italian cinema should turn to the realist writers from the turn of the 20th century. Neorealism was a style where they used non actors because it brought a sense of reality to the characters, where the acting seemed more natural and real. After decades of Hollywood gloss, real people instead of actors were startling to audiences. And yet while most neorealism films were generally filmed with nonprofessional actors, well known actors were cast in leading roles, populated by local people rather than extras brought in for the film. Neorealist films are shot almost exclusively on location, mostly in run-down cities as well as rural areas due to its forming during the post-war era, no longer being constrained to studio sets or props. The stories explored the idea of what it is like to live among the poor and the lower working class, while the focus is on a simple social order of survival in rural, everyday life. 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. Neorealism screenwriter Cesare Zavattini said, “film should address not ‘historical man’ but the ‘man without a label’, while critic Andre Bazin stated that ‘irrelevant Actions’ were a key aesthetic that neorealism provided within the framework of its stories. There are different debates on when the Neorealist period began and ended. Some claimed it began with Ossessione by Luchino Visconti in 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. The movement is said to have ended in 1948, with the shift in power from the left to the centrist Christian Democrat Party, while others claimed that the cycle ended with De Sica’s Umberto D in 1952.

Italian Neorealism
Featured Italian Neorealism Films
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Articles and Essays on Italian Neorealism

The Cycle of Poverty



La Strada (1954)

La Strada which in English means ‘The Road’ is one of Federico Fellini’s most heartbreaking fables. It’s a simple road film that contains the many ‘Felliniesque’ trademarks that we would return to throughout Fellini’s career, which are the circus, the parade, the seashore, loneliness, the search for love, a figure suspended between earth and sky, and one woman […]


Bicycle Thieves (1948)

The Bicycle Thieves (or The Bicycle Thief) is a story of humanity and love that has touched so many people around the world because of its powerful simplicities. Sometimes the simplest stories are the most important to tell, because they are the ones people can most identify with, which can create an emotional template of personal honesty […]


Martin Scorsese on La Strada

It’s powerful to see Scorsese get emotional talking about the character of Zampano around 5:10, and how he related to the character from his childhood, bringing parts of the character into Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. [youtube][/youtube]