Neorealism

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Neorealism

 

a trend in Italian motion pictures and literature from the mid-1940’s to the mid-1950’s; a new form of realism that emerged after World War II during the struggle for antifascist and democratic national art. The historical basis for neorealism was the nationwide Resistance Movement and the spread of socialist ideas in Italy. The literature of verismo, the theoretical works and films of Soviet cinematographers, and the work of progressive French directors greatly influenced the development of neorealism.

Imbued with respect for man and the power of solidarity, neorealism chose as its principal characters individuals from the common people who retained high moral qualities and who experienced personal growth in their struggle for the good of the whole nation. Its chief themes included the exposure of the horrors and demagoguery of fascism, the heroic feats of the Italian partisans, and the struggle for social justice. Neorealism was basically concerned with the ordinary man’s struggle to maintain his dignity in a cruel and unjust society.

The aesthetic principles of neorealism in the Italian cinema were set forth by C. Zavattini, who also applied them in his own scenarios. Neorealism’s artistic manifesto was director R. Rossellini’s film Open City (1945). A large group of like-minded artists formed, including the directors L. Visconti, V. De Sica, R. Rossellini, G. De Santis, P. Germi, C Lizzani. and L. Zampa and the actors and actresses A. Magnani, A. Fabrizi, M. Girotti, Totò, R. Vallone, and C. Del Poggio. The best films of neorealism included Paisan, The Bicycle Thief, Shoe Shine, Umberto D, La Terra Trema (The Earth Trembles), Tragic Hunt, In the Name of the Law, Road of Hope, Naples, City of Millionaires, and Rome, Eleven O’Clock.

Neorealist directors sought new means of expression. Cinema language changed significantly. Neorealist films were distinguished by a striving for detail and for documentary-like depiction of the burdensome life of the people. The films were laconic, restrained, and entirely devoid of the deceptive prettiness and elaborateness of films of the fascist period. The films, mainly black-and-white, were, as a rule, shot on location—on the street and outdoors. Nonprofessionals were often recruited to act. Sometimes the scenario was based on newspaper reports. The dialogue in the films often used the local dialects. A number of films included commentaries, which served to summarize the action. All this gave the films a special aura of credibility.

Neorealism in literature arose in opposition to the various modernist currents and clericalist tendencies and, especially, to profascist art. The most developed literary genre was the lyrical document, which combined autobiography with fiction, for example, V. Pratolini’s Magazzini Street and Family Chronicle and C. Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli. The comedies of E. De Filippo, for example, Naples the Millionaire, were closely related to this genre. A broader, epic treatment of social problems and conflicts was present in the novels Metello by Pratolini and Lands of Sacramento by F. Jovine and in the essays of Levi.

Neorealists strove for clarity and simplicity in language and imagery; they made extensive use of folk speech. This tendency was also manifested in poetry (P. P. Pasolini), which rejected the hermetists’ striving for new poetic forms.

In the mid-1950’s, the limitations of the neorealistic method became evident. Neorealism proved itself incapable of exposing the most important and complex contradictions of the new reality; it sometimes substituted empiricism for analysis. The realism in contemporary Italian cinema and literature outgrew the artistic ideas and world view of neorealism. However, neorealism had accomplished a serious ideological and aesthetic task: it had reawakened in Italian art an interest in the common people.

Phenomena related to neorealism also appeared in the Italian fine arts—in the paintings and graphic art of U. Attardi, A. Salvatore, G. Zigaina, and C. Levi, and in a number of paintings by R. Guttuso—and to a certain degree in the theater, where L. Visconti, E. De Filippo, and A. Magnani worked. Neorealism also influenced Italian popular songs.

At the beginning of the 1950’s, neorealism exerted an influence on a number of European literatures and on film-making in many countries, including the socialist countries. Similar tendencies in the art of Western European countries (France, Great Britain, West Germany) were sometimes also called neorealist. Neorealism survived in individual films of subsequent years and, at the beginning of the 1970’s, again became prominent in the progressive tendency known as political cinema.

REFERENCES

Stsenarii ital’ianskogo kino [vols. 1–2]. Moscow, 1958–67. (Translation.)
Zavattini, C. “Nekotorye mysli o kino.” In Umberto D. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from Italian.)
Potapova, Z. M. Neorealizm v ital’ianskoi literature. Moscow, 1961.
Solov’eva, I. Kino Italii (1945–1960): Ocherki Moscow, 1961.
Kin, Ts. Mif, realnost’, literatura. Moscow, 1968.
Ferretti, G. C. Letteratura e ideologia. Rome, 1964.

G. D. BOGEMSKII and Z. M. POTAPOVA

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