The neorealism is an artistic and cultural movement that emerged in Italy in the early post-war years, especially in the field of cinema, but also in literature, painting and music.
Neorealism developed in response to Italy’s post-war political and economic situation, characterized by the destruction of war, widespread poverty, unemployment, and disillusionment with politics and society.
Neorealism tried to represent social and human reality in a raw and truthful way, staging stories of ordinary people and telling their lives and their daily difficulties. The movement was based on the use of non-professional actors, real settings and the elimination of special effects and editing tricks, in order to make the stories as close to reality as possible.
Italian neorealistic cinema was influenced by Soviet cinema of the 20-30s and from the theories of the French director Jean Renoir. Between major directors of Italian neorealism we can mention Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti and Federico Fellini.
Neorealism had a great impact on film history worldwide and influenced many subsequent directors, including the directors of the French New Wave in the 1960s. The movement also had a cultural and social impact in Italy, helping to bring forth a new social and political consciousness in the country.
When Was Neorealism Born?
Neorealism in Italy was born in the period immediately following the end of the Second World War, i.e. at the end of the 1940s. The first film considered “neorealist” is “Ossessione” by Luchino Visconti, released in 1943, even if the real impetus to the movement came with “Rome, open city” by Roberto Rossellini, from 1945, which represented a turning point for Italian cinema and world. Neorealism developed mainly in the 1950s, until it declined at the end of the decade.
Why is it Called Neorealism?
The term “neorealism” derives from the fact that the directors and artists who were part of this movement tried to represent reality in the most faithful and authentic way possible, avoiding the artifices and styles typical of the previous cinema, which often fiction and aestheticization.
The prefix “neo” was added to indicate a break with the past and to highlight the innovative aspect of the movement, which represented a radical departure from the conventions and techniques of earlier cinema.
In summary, the name “neorealism” wants to underline the desire to represent reality in a new, different and authentic way, with respect to the conventions and rules of the past.
Who Are the Main Exponents of Neorealism?
Italian neorealism saw the participation of many directors, screenwriters, actors and artists of various disciplines, but some of the major exponents of the movement are as follows:
Roberto Rossellini – director of “Roma, open city” (1945), “Paisà” (1946) and “Germania anno zero” (1948), considered among the masterpieces of Italian neorealism;
Vittorio De Sica – director of “Bicycle Thieves” (1948) and “Umberto D.” (1952), two films that represent the pinnacle of Italian neorealism;
Luchino Visconti – director of “Ossessione” (1943) considered the first neorealist film, “La terra trema” (1948) and “Bellissima” (1951);
Federico Fellini – director of “La strada” (1954) and “The nights of Cabiria” (1957), films which, although not strictly neorealist, take up their style and themes;
Cesare Zavattini – screenwriter and critic, collaborator of many neorealist directors, including De Sica and Rossellini, and author of important theoretical writings on movement.
These artists, together with other exponents of neorealism, have contributed to creating a new way of making cinema and of representing the post-war Italian reality, leaving an indelible mark on the history of world cinema.
Neorealism in Literature
Neorealism in literature was a cultural and artistic movement that originated in Italy in the late 1940s, simultaneously with cinematic neorealism. It represents the continuation of 19th century Italian realism, but with a new focus on post-war events and social problems.
Neorealist writers tried to represent social reality in a direct and truthful way, without idealizations or idealisms, using simple and everyday language. Among the major exponents of neorealism in literature we can mention Vasco Pratolini, Italo Calvino, Alberto Moravia, Cesare Pavese, Elio Vittorini and Ignazio Silone.
The thematic of neorealism in literature centered on the difficulties and sufferings of the daily life of ordinary people, with particular attention to the economic, social and political problems of post-war Italy. Neorealist novels and plays often portrayed the lives of poor people, workers, peasants, the unemployed, refugees and war veterans.
The neorealist novels, such as those of Pavese and Moravia, were characterized by a strong psychological introspection of the characters, while those of Pratolini and Vittorini concentrated on the description of the environment and the characters of the popular world. Overall, literary neorealism had an important cultural and social impact in Italy and contributed to the formation of national consciousness and the fight against social injustices.
What Are the Characteristics of Neorealism?
The main characteristics of neorealism are as follows:
Realism: neorealism is characterized by the representation of reality in a raw and truthful way, without idealizations or aestheticizations, and with particular attention to the difficulties and sufferings of ordinary people.
Setting: Neorealism takes place mainly in real and everyday environments, such as city streets, the countryside, public housing and factories.
Non-professional actors: Neo-realist films often use non-professional actors, chosen from ordinary people, to give greater authenticity and realism to the performances.
Documentary Style: Neorealism uses a documentary style, with location shooting, natural lighting, and minimal editing, to create a feeling of reality.
Social issues: Neorealism deals with social issues such as poverty, unemployment, war, hunger and social inequalities.
Social criticism: neorealism expresses a strong social criticism, denouncing injustice and inequality, and calling for solidarity and social emancipation.
Humanity of the characters: neorealist characters are often ordinary people, human and vulnerable, who have to struggle with the difficulties of life.
Why Did Neorealism End?
Neorealism had a short but intense season, which extended from about 1943 to 1952, and which was characterized by a strong civil, social and political commitment. However, at the end of the 1950s, neorealism lost its driving force and a new model of cinema and culture gradually took hold.
There are various reasons that brought about the end of neorealism, including:
Political change: the end of the 40s and the beginning of the 50s were characterized by a political change in Italy, with the advent of Christian democracy and the birth of the economic miracle. These changes have led to a decrease in the political and social commitment of filmmakers and writers, and to an increase in interest in modernization and technological innovation.
Aesthetic turning point: the end of the 1950s saw the emergence of a new model of cinema and culture, characterized by greater attention to forms and technique, and by greater interest in the international public. This new model has led to a gradual marginalization of neorealism, considered too realistic and too tied to the Italian reality.
Evolution of taste: the Italian and international public began to look for a more accessible and entertaining cinema and literature, which responded to the needs of escapism and entertainment. This tendency has led to a gradual disinterest in neorealism, considered too demanding and too tied to reality.
In summary, the end of neorealism was determined by a combination of political, aesthetic and cultural factors, which led to a progressive change in the tastes and needs of the public.
Neorealist Films to Watch
Here is a list of Neorealism films, masterpieces to watch absolutely:
Obsession is a 1943 film directed by Luchino Visconti, considered one of the masterpieces of Italian cinema and one of the forerunners of Neorealism.
The film is based on the novel “The Postman Always Rings Twice” by James M. Cain, but the plot has been significantly modified to adapt to the Italian reality of the time. The story revolves around the relationship between Gino, a tramp who arrives at an inn in the countryside, and Giovanna, the wife of the owner of the inn. The passion between the two is intense but also desperate, and will lead them to perform desperate and tragic actions.
The film was controversial at the time due to its explicit sexual themes and depiction of a poor and desperate rural Italy. Furthermore, it was the first film to be censored by the fascist regime for moral reasons, before it could be distributed. However, it was critically acclaimed and helped change the landscape of Italian cinema, paving the way for Neorealism.
Obsession is known for its impressive and realistic cinematography, its evocative soundtrack and its theatrical staging. The film was influential to many later filmmakers, including Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni, and influenced Italian neorealist cinema and the French Nouvelle Vague movement.
The Children Are Watching Us (1944)
It’s a drama movie Italian 1944, directed by Vittorio De Sica. It is considered one of the masterpieces of Italian neorealism and has had a great impact on world cinematography.
The plot of the film follows the story of a boy named Pricò, who lives with his separated mother and father in an apartment in Rome during the 1930s. When the mother begins a new relationship with a man, Pricò’s father tries to get custody of his son, but fails to do so. Meanwhile, Pricò observes everything that happens around him, trying to understand the complex dynamics of adults.
The film explores themes such as childhood, love, family and divorce, touching on important social issues of the time. The acting of the children in the film is particularly notable, as De Sica cast non-professional actors to play the lead roles.
The film won the Grand Prix of the Cannes Film Festival in 1946 and won international critical acclaim. The film inspired many later directors, including François Truffaut, who called De Sica “the father of modern cinema”.
Rome Open City (1945)
It’s a Italian movie of 1945 directed by the director Roberto Rossellini. It is considered one of the most important films in the history of Italian cinema and one of the masterpieces of neorealist cinema.
The plot of the film follows the story of a group of people living in Nazi-occupied Rome during World War II. Among these characters are a priest, a pregnant woman, a partisan and a police commissioner who works with the Germans. The film follows their lives as they try to resist the Nazi occupation and their atrocities.
The film was shot largely on the streets of Rome, using non-professional actors and creating a strong sense of realism. Furthermore, “Rome, open city” was one of the first films to deal directly and crudely with the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the occupation.
The film received numerous international awards and recognitions, helping to launch the Italian neorealism movement in cinema. “Rome, open city” is considered one of the most important films in the history of Italian cinema and has influenced many subsequent directors.
The Gate of Heaven (1945)
It is a 1945 Italian film directed by Vittorio De Sica. The film tells the story of a group of people who find themselves aboard a stranded plane during World War II. The plane crashes on a remote island in the Pacific and the survivors must deal with the difficulties of survival in a hostile land.
The film was shot during the war and was greatly influenced by the political situation of the time. The story has been interpreted as a metaphor for the Italian situation during the war, with the characters representing different parts of Italian society.
The film was received with great enthusiasm by audiences and critics, and won numerous awards, including the Golden Lion at the 1945 Venice Film Festival. It is considered one of the masterpieces of Italian cinema and inspired many subsequent films.
The film has a stellar cast that includes actors such as Alida Valli, Eduardo De Filippo, Ave Ninchi and Andrea Checchi. De Sica’s direction has been praised for its ability to handle tension and create a strong atmosphere of realism.
The film also has a strong message of hope and solidarity, where the characters must collaborate and work together to survive. Heaven’s Door is a film that made the history of Italian cinema and still remains today a work of great artistic and cultural value.
The Sun Still Rises (1946)
It is a 1946 Italian film directed by Aldo Vergano and produced by Lux Film.
The plot of the film is based on the novel of the same name by Elio Vittorini and takes place during the Second World War, precisely in Southern Italy, where a group of fighting partisans is hiding from the German troops. The film follows the story of some characters who live in a small community, forced to live with the harshness of war and with the need to make difficult choices to survive.
The cast of the film is made up of some of the major Italian actors of the time, such as Alida Valli, Massimo Girotti, Eduardo De Filippo and Vittorio De Sica.
The film was well received by critics and audiences, becoming one of the greatest successes of Italian cinema at the time. The Sun Rises Again was also presented in competition at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival, where it received a special mention.
The film represents one of the first cinematographic works that realistically dealt with the situation of the Italian Resistance during the Second World War, and contributed to making the events of the partisan struggle in Italy known to the whole world.
Sciuscià is a 1946 Italian drama film, directed by Vittorio De Sica. The film tells the story of two young street children from Rome, Giuseppe and Pasquale, who earn their living as shoe shiners, but find themselves involved in a crime ring.
The film is considered one of the masterpieces of Italian neorealism, a cinematographic movement that aimed to represent the social and political reality of post-war Italy. Sciuscià was shot on a limited budget and with non-professional actors, including the two young protagonists Franco Interlenghi and Rinaldo Smordoni.
The film achieved great international success and won the Grand Prix at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival. Sciuscià also received an Oscar nomination for best foreign film.
The film explores universal themes such as friendship, poverty, crime, social inequality and childhood. The story of the two shoe shine boys is a metaphor for the condition of the Italian people, subjected to the harshness of war and poverty.
Sciuscià is a touching film, which was able to delicately and realistically represent the difficulties and contradictions of daily life in that historical period. The film’s ending has been defined as one of the most dramatic and intense in the history of cinema, leaving viewers impressed and moved.
Paisan is a 1946 film directed by Roberto Rossellini, and is considered one of the masterpieces of Italian neorealism. It is an ensemble film, divided into six episodes, which tells the experience of Italian liberation during the Second World War through the eyes of different characters.
The film begins with the arrival of the Allies in Italy, with the first episode set in Palermo, Sicily, where an American soldier tries to help a little Italian girl find her family. In the second episode, a group of American soldiers arrives in Naples, where they meet a girl who works as an interpreter for the army. The third episode is set in a war hospital in Rome, where a wounded soldier meets a nun who helps him find his family.
In the fourth episode, an American soldier arrives in Florence where he falls in love with a girl who is preparing to fight against the Germans. In the fifth episode, a group of partisans tries to cross the Po River to reach the allied lines, but is attacked by the Germans. Finally, the last episode is set in Venice, where an American soldier tries to help a girl find her brother, a partisan imprisoned by the Germans.
The film bears witness to the experience of the war in Italy, with a particular look at the cultural diversity of the characters involved. The director Rossellini, in fact, uses a realistic and documentary approach, with the aim of showing the reality of the post-war period. Paisà was a great international success, helping to define neorealism as one of the most important currents in Italian cinema.
Tragic Hunt (1947)
“Caccia Tragica” is a 1947 Italian drama film, directed by Giuseppe De Santis. The film was produced immediately after the end of the Second World War and reflects the political and social climate of Italy at the time.
The plot of the film follows a group of farm labourers, who are moved from one area to another in search of work, looking for a way to make ends meet. During their search, they meet a charming young woman, played by Vivi Gioi, who joins them. But the arrival of the woman causes tension within the group, and the rivalry between the men ends up leading to tragedy.
The film was highly praised for its realistic depiction of the life of farm laborers and their struggle for survival. Additionally, it was an important film for its portrayal of women as strong and independent characters in an era where women were often viewed as inferior to men.
“Caccia Tragica” was also notable for its cinematography and its soundtrack, which included pieces by great Italian composers such as Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone. The film received numerous awards and accolades, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1947.
The film represented a turning point in the depiction of the life of farm workers and women. The film was lauded for its cinematography and soundtrack, and is still considered one of the masterpieces of Italian cinema.
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
It is a 1948 drama film directed by Vittorio De Sica, considered one of the masterpieces of Italian neorealism.
The plot follows the story of Antonio Ricci (played by Lamberto Maggiorani), an unemployed family man who finally manages to find work as a brawler in Rome. However, his job requires the use of a bicycle, which he does not own. His desperation leads him to pawn the only thing of value he has, his double bed, to buy a bicycle.
Unfortunately, his bicycle is stolen on his first day on the job and, with the help of his son Bruno (played by Enzo Staiola), he embarks on a desperate quest to recover it. Along the way, the two meet a variety of characters, including some who appear to have stolen Antonio’s bicycle.
The film is known for its realistic depiction of post-war life in Italy, where poverty and unemployment were rife. The black and white photography and the use of non-professional actors (such as Maggiorani and Staiola) add to the feeling of authenticity of the film.
The film has been critically acclaimed since its release and has won numerous awards, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. The film has become a classic of Italian cinema and has influenced many directors around the world.
The Earth Trembles (1948)
It is a 1948 film directed by the Italian director Luchino Visconti. It is a drama film that tells the story of a fishing family in a small fishing village in Sicily, and their struggle to break free from poverty and the oppression of local traders.
The film was shot with non-professional actors, using the local Sicilian dialect, which gave the film a sense of realism and authenticity. The film’s black-and-white photography was lauded for its beauty and its ability to create a dark and dramatic atmosphere.
The film was controversial upon its release due to its strong social and political criticism. Visconti intended to represent the Sicilian fishermen’s struggle as a metaphor for the struggle of the working classes against the oppression of the capitalists. However, some critics accused the film of being overly political and demonizing traders.
Despite the controversy, La terra trema has been recognized as a masterpiece of Italian cinema and has had a great influence on Italian and international cinematography. The film was presented at many international film festivals and won numerous awards, including the Grand Prix at the 1948 Venice Film Festival.
The Sad City (1949)
It is a 1949 Italian film directed by Mario Bonnard and interpreted by Amedeo Nazzari, Yvonne Sanson and Carla Del Poggio.
The plot of the film revolves around Marco, a man who moves to Naples to start a new life after being falsely accused of murder. There he meets Maria, a young and beautiful singer, with whom he falls in love, but their love is threatened by the hostility of her father, the boss of the local underworld. Marco, however, is determined to protect Maria at all costs, even if it means defying her father and his henchmen.
It is a noir movie with a dark and dramatic tone, set in an atmosphere of corruption, violence and despair. Director Mario Bonnard expertly uses the views and alleys of Naples to create an image of a decadent city plagued by social problems.
The film is known for the performances of its protagonists, in particular that of Amedeo Nazzari as Marco, which gives the character a deep emotional intensity. The soundtrack, composed by Renzo Rossellini, is also particularly memorable, with pieces of great emotional impact that fit perfectly with the tone of the film.
The director was able to represent the social reality of the time with great effectiveness and, even today, the film retains its ability to excite and involve the audience intact.
Bitter Rice (1949)
It is a 1949 Italian film directed by Giuseppe De Santis. The film is considered one of the masterpieces of Italian neorealism.
The plot follows the story of two women, Silvana and Francesca, who work together in the rice fields in the Po Valley during the harvest season. Silvana is a beautiful young girl who tries to escape the law after stealing a necklace, while Francesca is a mature and honest woman who works hard to support herself and her daughter.
During the harvest season, Silvana is courted by Walter, a professional thief who tries to convince her to carry out a theft in a nearby factory. Meanwhile, Francesca meets Marco, a young worker who works in the rice factory. The stories of the two women intertwine until they culminate in a tragic conclusion.
The film is known for its realistic depiction of conditions for agricultural workers in post-war Italy. In particular, the rice harvesting scenes were shot with the participation of real farmers, giving the film a strong sense of authenticity.
The cast of the film includes well-known actors such as Silvana Mangano, Vittorio Gassman and Doris Dowling. The soundtrack of the film was composed by Goffredo Petrassi and is considered one of the best music ever created for an Italian film.
The film received numerous awards, including the Grand Prix of the 1949 Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1950. The film is still considered a masterpiece of Italian cinema and a cornerstone of neorealism today.
Land of God (1950)
Land of God is a 1950 Italian neorealist film, directed by Roberto Rossellini and played by Ingrid Bergman. The film tells the story of a Lithuanian woman named Karin (played by Bergman), who marries an Italian fisherman named Antonio and moves into his home on the island of Stromboli.
Karin finds it difficult to adjust to the isolated and difficult conditions of life on the island. She feels lonely, trapped and frustrated with the limited options available. She comes into conflict with the locals and with her husband, who is unable to understand her feelings. Karin finally decides to try to escape the island, but her attempts are met with tragedy.
The film is known for the collaboration between Rossellini and Bergman, who fell in love during filming and had a scandalous affair. The film also explores themes of loneliness, culture clash and the search for identity, and is considered a landmark in neorealist cinema.
No Peace Under the Olive Tree (1950)
It is a 1950 Italian film directed by Giuseppe De Santis. The film is set in the Salento region of Italy and tells the story of a young widow, Rosa, who tries to protect her property of olive trees from local speculators looking to expropriate it.
The film is a social drama that explores the issue of fighting for land and defending the rights of smallholders against big business and speculators. The character of Rosa represents the struggle of the Italian peasantry for justice and dignity.
The film was well received by critics and audiences and received numerous international awards, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1950. It is considered a classic of Italian neorealism and a significant example of Italian cinematography immediately after the war.
The cast of the film included actors such as Raf Vallone, Lucia Bosè and Vittorio Gassman. The soundtrack of the film, composed by Alessandro Cicognini, was highly appreciated and helped to increase the popularity of the film.
Miracle in Milan (1951)
It is a 1951 film directed by Vittorio De Sica and written by Cesare Zavattini. It is a dramatic and moving film that tells the story of Toto, a young orphan raised in an orphanage who, once an adult, moves to Milan in search of work.
In the big city, Toto meets other outcasts and underprivileged living in a slum, including the beautiful Hedwig, with whom he falls in love. Toto and the other slum dwellers are evicted and forced to live in a vacant lot. Here, Toto discovers a magical plant that produces bread and wine in abundance, transforming community life and making the land a place of pilgrimage.
The film is a social critique of inequality and poverty, but at the same time it is also a fantastic fairy tale, showing hope and solidarity as important values in life. The performance of the young actor Francesco Golisano, who plays Toto, is particularly moving and has contributed to making the film a classic of Italian cinema.
The film was awarded the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1951 and achieved great success with audiences around the world. The film is considered one of the most important works of Italian neorealism and influenced many later directors and writers.
“Bellissima” is a 1951 Italian film directed by Luchino Visconti and played by Anna Magnani, Walter Chiari and Tina Apicella. The film was well received by critics and is considered one of Visconti’s best works.
The plot of the film follows Maddalena (played by Magnani), a mother determined to make her daughter Maria a great film actress. Maddalena is a simple woman of humble origins, but she aspires to make her daughter successful and does not hesitate to make sacrifices to do so. She presents herself to an audition for her daughter, who is rejected due to her too young age, but Maddalena continues to look for ways to make her a star.
The film explores themes such as vanity, the aspiration for immortality through art and the world of cinema, which is shown as a cynical and ruthless environment. The character of Maddalena represents the figure of the stereotypical Italian mother, obsessed with her children’s success and willing to do anything to make her dreams come true.
Anna Magnani’s performance was highly praised and she won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1952. The film was also nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes that year.
Umberto D. (1952)
Umberto D. is an Italian drama film from 1952, directed by Vittorio De Sica, starring Carlo Battisti as Umberto Domenico Ferrari, a pensioner trying to survive in a post-war Rome.
The film tells the poignant story of an elderly man who tries to cope with the difficulties of everyday life: rent, insufficient pension, social isolation. Umberto D. lives with his faithful dog, Flike, and tries to keep his apartment despite the constant calls from the owner.
Despite his efforts, Umberto D. cannot find a job that allows him to maintain his lifestyle. He tries to sell the valuables, but is forced to abandon the idea due to the too low prices that are offered to him.
Umberto D.’s situation worsens when he is hospitalized for an illness and discovers, on his return, that the owner has decided to evict him. Umberto D. seeks help among his friends, including the young governess Maria, but realizes that no one can help him.
The film ends with Umberto D. who, after trying in vain to find a solution to his problems, decides to leave his apartment and go away with his dog Flike.
Umberto D. is considered one of the masterpieces of Italian neorealism, a cinematographic movement that developed after the Second World War and which was characterized by the realistic representation of daily life and the economic and social difficulties of post-war Italy. The film was appreciated for its delicacy and profound humanity, which made Umberto D. an icon of Italian and world cinema.