Italian Neorealism

Categories: Realism

The Italian Neo-Realism Movement (1943-1952) I. Origins a. Response to Fascism b. Anti-Hollywood Artifice c. Cesare Zavattini – Neo-realist screenwriter (incl. Bicycle Thieves) who wrote a manifesto to guide filmmaking d. Film journals Cinema and Bianco e Nero i. Called for a cinema that resembled the realism of literature e. Influenced by Jean Renoir’s Toni (1935) and Alessandro Blassetti’s 1860 (1934) f. Influenced by American noir books and films


  • Humanistic and moralistic philosophy with emphasis on contemporary social issues
  • Focus on ordinary people (especially the working class) and everyday life
  • Bazin – Neo-realism gives the viewer “a sense of the ambiguity of the real” rather than the appearance of the real.


  • Shot on location mostly in rural areas/working class neighborhoods and with natural light
  • Gritty, documentary-like cinematography
  • Post-synchronized sound (dubbing)
  • Scenes in real time e. Used non-professional actors & conversational speech
  • Plot evolves organically
  • Lack of artifice in camerawork and editing

Leading Directors & Films

  • Roberto Rossellini (Open City, 1946; Paisan, 1946)
  • Luchino Visconti (The Earth Trembles, 1948)
  • Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves, 1948; Umberto D, 1951)

Influence & Legacy

  • Fellini and Antonioni i.

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    Worked on neo-realist films early in their careers

  • Documented social realities as directors
  • French New Wave (Late 1950s & 1960s)
  • Dogme 95 (Denmark – 1995-2005)

L. A. School of Black Independent Filmmakers (get dates) Italian Neorealism (1943-1952):

  • Social reality of normal Italians Location shooting and post-synchronized sound (dubbing of dialogue)
  • Use of non-professional actors
  • Documentary visual style
  • No contrived plots or “happy endings”
  • Bicycle Thieves (1948): In Italian: Ladri di biciclette
  • Directed by Vittorio De Sica
  • Adapted from novel
  • Received honorary Academy Award in 1949
  • Set in poverty-stricken Rome
  • Antonio Ricci unemployed for 2 years; gets a job hanging posters, but needs a bicycle
  • Antonio’s wife Maria pawns wedding linen to get bicycle out of hock
  • Bruno: their son PCA denied film its seal of approval because of two scenes

Italian Neorealism Sources:

  • Realism- attempt to represent people, objects or places in a naturalistic manner as opposed to an idealized way
  • Cesare Zavattini: theoretical founder o 1943: critic Umberto Barbaro first uses term neorealism
  • Poetic realism (France, 1930’s)
  • Hard-boiled writers and film noir (USA)
  1. Visconti’s Ossessione (1942): based on John M.

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    Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice; considered first neorealist film

  2. Italian Neorealism Style: Location shooting- out of the studio and into the streets
  3. Postsynchronized sound (dubbing) Use of non-professional actors
  4. Plot evolves organically
  5. Everyday and/or conversational speech o Lack of artifice in camerawork and editing; a “styleless” style

Italian Neorealism Ideology:

  • Social Humanism- belief in the dignity and worth of all human beings
  • Value of ordinary people and everyday life
  • Concerns of working class, particularly children
  • Focus on the aftermath of World War II
  • Hope for future recovery (later, pessimism) Rome, Open City (1945):
  • Italian title: Roma citta aperta
  • Open city: form of surrender that protects city from attack
  • Historically-based story of resistance against German occupation of Rome

Giorgio, a resistance fighter, is pursued by the Nazis; he begs Pina, a widow engaged to his friend Francesco, for help; Pina is carrying Francesco’s child

  • Pina contacts Don Pietro, a Catholic priest who secretly aids the resistance
  • Giorgio is betrayed by his girlfriend; both he and Don Pietro are arrested by the Nazis o Raid scene Interrogation scene
  • Italian Neorealism Demise: o 1950’s: changing social conditions and improving economy

Government opposition to content: Andreotti Law (1949)

  1. Government censorship of scripts
  2. Offered production loans and subsidies only to filmmakers who made films “suitable … to the best interests of Italy”
  3. Export licenses withheld from controversial films
  4. Italian Neorealism Effects: Described as single most influential film movement in history
  5. Revitalized Italian Cinema o 1950’s: India (Satyajit Ray), China, and Brazil
  6. 1960’s: French New Wave o 1970’s: Los Angeles School of Black Independent Filmmakers
  7. 1990’s: Dogme 95 (“vow of chastity)

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Italian Neorealism. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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