Neorealism was a stark contrast from the style of film-making viewers were used to during this era. It created a sense of honesty and conveyed emotions, which audiences had never experienced before.
Several different movements and genres have emerged within film theory, and re-emerged over the years in turn influencing one another. One important theory being Italian neorealism, which emerged in post-World War Two Italy. According to Pam Cook and Mieke Bernink, editors of “The Cinema Book: The 2nd Edition” (1999), “Aesthetically the ‘realism’ of the neorealism movement consisted principally of a commitment to the representation of human reality.” (Cook and Bernink, P.g. 77).
Italian neorealism emerged during the late 1940’s, after Italy had been liberated from the reign of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. During the war, Mussolini put a complete halt on all imports of films produced by “the enemy”, specifically Hollywood. Even the exporting of Italian films ceased. The positive impact of this was that the break from Hollywood films gave Italian cinema a chance to expand and flourish in Italy.
Once Italy was liberated from the influx of Hollywood films, Italian filmmakers began looking for a new style of film-making to call their own. Neorealism was therefore a result of the longing to break away from the formulaic style of Hollywood film-making, as well as the restricted nationalistic films produced by the fascist regime. In contrast, neorealist films focused on the harsh truth and daily turmoil many in the country faced. A popular theme was poverty, sadly a real commonality amongst most of the Italian working class at the time.
A perfect example of the neorealist style is depicted through Vittorio De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” (1948). Set in post WW2 Italy, it tells the story of the Ricci family, who were deeply affected by the war, not only physically and financially, but spiritually and emotionally as well. Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), the films main character, finally finds work posting movie posters, but to do this job he must have a bicycle. He and his wife Maria (Lianella Carell) then pawn their bed sheets to get enough money to buy his bicycle back from the pawn shop. Ricci begins work only to have his bicycle stolen on the first day. Ricci and his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola), without much luck, then go on what seems to be a never-ending search for the perpetrator and the bicycle.
De Sica said, “We strove to look ourselves in the eyes and tell ourselves the truth, to discover who we really were and to seek salvation.” Instead of focusing on unrealistic adventurous tales and romantic fairy tales, neorealistic films focused on more common events, like a bicycle being stolen from a helpless man. To add to the films realistic approach, De Sica even cast the entire film with ordinary people who had never acted a day in their lives (you would never guess that, guaranteed!)
Neorealist films were shot on location, in spaces which were not glamorized for the camera. This gave viewers all over the world a chance to see how Italy, once known for its beauty and landscape, was affected by the war with their own eyes. In regards to “The Bicycle Thief”, the opening scenes reveal, not a country full of excitement or happiness, but a country filled with anger, loneliness and longing. The viewer sees windows missing glass in their frames, dirty old buildings, streets empty of cars and businesses, but filled with people on-foot wandering aimlessly until an opportunity for work or money arises.
Neorealistic films often share a common ending, and “The Bicycle Thief” truly exemplifies this theme.
Antonio Ricci never gets his bike back. The film simply ends. The viewer is left shrugging their shoulder and wondering, what will happen to the Ricci family?!?
That’s the point, because that’s the truth. Not everything gets resolved in life. There may not have been a happy ending and even if there was, the story still continues for the rest of the characters lives.
OKAY, SPOILER ALERT IS OVER, YOU CAN NOW SAFELY EMERGE FROM WHATEVER ROCK YOU JUST HIDE UNDER AND CONTINUE READING…..
Neorealistic films, like “The Bicycle Thief”, dealt with the accurate social, political and economic situation Italians were facing at the time, as well as the realistic treatment of their citizens. De Sica hoped to expose the physical hunger and spiritual despair that was felt, as it was a common feeling among people all over the world. By naming the brand name of the films bicycle “Fides”, which in Italian means faith, and having it stolen, he is explaining that the faith of the Italian people in themselves, and each other, was not just lost, but cruelly taken away. He wanted the viewers to understand this feeling, feel it themselves and sympathize with the population.
It would be foolish to not mention that this film is frequently on critics’ and directors’ lists of the best films ever made. It was given an Academy Honorary Award in 1950, and, just four years after its release, was deemed the greatest film of all time by the magazine Sight & Sound’s poll of filmmakers and critics in 1952. The film placed sixth as the greatest ever made in the latest directors poll, conducted in 2002. (imdb.com) I first viewed it in a film history course and loved it so much that I chose to start a 12 hour journey via plane with it, and proceeded to watch it 3 times… so you know its worth the watch! HAPPY VIEWING!