Italian Neorealism: Martin Scorsese’s Origins
Legendary film director Martin Scorsese has stated many times that one of the biggest influences in his work was the Italian Neorealism period in Italy. His personal documentary My Voyage to Italy (also check out: A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies) is a journey through Italian Cinema history and marking influential films. But what is Italian Neorealism?
“I saw these movies. They had a powerful effect on me. You should see them.” – Martin Scorsese
Mussolini’s Government wasn’t the only thing which ceased to exist after the Second World War. The making of traditional Italian movies also stopped as all the film studios were destroyed during the war.
In the year 1943, when Mussolini lost control of the Kingdom of Italy, local cinema saw significant changes which led to the birth of a new genre in the entertainment industry. This new genre took the film world, not only in Italy but the neighboring countries as well, by a storm.
Filmmakers were facing an extremely hard time to make films owing to limited resources and lack of studios where they could shoot. One thing led to another, and soon top filmmakers of the country found a solution to cope with the issue. This was the start of Neorealist thought in the Italian film industry.
Protagonists of the Thought
Huge names like Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, and Vittorio de Sica are some of the many who emerged to the fore and laid the foundation of Italian Neorealism, also known an Italian Spring. The ideas and the messages behind the films changed with changing social and political scenarios.
At this time producers and directors were ready to put their money and efforts, respectively, into the movies which focused on social shortcomings and the plight of people. Society, economy, and politics were the main niche of interest, under the influence of Italian Neorealism. The directors dared to make these movies now, which the former fascist regime, led by Mussolini, would have never tolerated.
Ideological Impact on the Movies
Reviewing the films, which were produced in Italy during the era between 1943 and 1950s, we come to know that all of them opted a theme of post-war poverty, depression, injustice, unemployment, and other menaces which were plaguing whole of the Italian society.
Not only the topics of the films were primarily affected by the Italian Spring of 1943, but it molded the ways of making movies up to a greater extent as well. Unlike the movies of the past, these movies hired new – lesser known – actors and revolved around the contemporary issues of the time. Moreover, films weren’t directed in huge studios, but the directors took their work onto the roads, interceding into the social fabric of society.
A common consideration is that these films were based on the Marxist thoughts passed on by the pro-socialist writer Karl Marx, as these focused not only injustice and chronic unemployment but also shed lots of light on the economic disparities between bourgeois and proletariat.
With the growing thought of economic disparities and rising, anxiety among the people, liberals and other parties found it hard to send their messages to the people of Italia.
The liberals condemned the thought of Italian Spring by suggesting that a nation which is already struggling to develop a balance and lacking stability will get further plunged into the social menaces, lest the expansion of Italian Neorealism is checked. With the turn of the 1950s, Italian Spring started to see a gradual decline in its popularity as people started searching out for an optimistic approach towards life.
It wasn’t exactly after the defeat of Italian Empire that neorealist thoughts prevailed in the society. The first film of the sorts, Ossessione featuring Massimo Girotti and Clara Calamao, was prepared by Luchino Visconti in May of 1943 when Mussolini was still in office. He left the office in July of the same year and Italy was invaded by Allied Powers in September, after which scores of such films came to the fore.
It wasn’t until Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (released in the year 1945) that the whole world came to know about Italian Neorealism. Once the idea and the thought spread, other countries also followed the lines of Italian film industry and started making movies which were based on social anarchy, imbalance, and disparities.
Famous Movies of the Neorealist Era
Here, we have listed some films created during the era of ‘Italian Spring’ ranging between 1943 and early 1950s.
The film revolves around Giovanna and Gino, with former killing her husband with the help of the latter when they meet at a gas station for the first time. In a hope to get away with the crime, Giovanna seduces Gino and tempts him to kill her husband. But, this leads to a string of deaths and betrayal which is faced by both these characters.
Rome, Open City single-handedly set the dawn of Italian Spring and following thoughts in the nearing countries of Europe and Asia. The film features Giorgio, as the leader of a resistance force against the Nazis. Once tracked down by the Germans, Giorgio is on the run and comes to his friend, Francesco, for help. He asks Francesco’s wife, Pina, to warn the priest, Pellegrini, that Giorgio needs to leave the town at earliest.
It is another film which portrays the felonies which were happening in the Italian cities during the time of Word War 2. Thanks to the war that Antonio is unemployed and his family is facing a hard time. When he finally finds an employment of hanging posters in Rome, his wife sells bed linens to help Antonio get his bicycle back from the pawnshop. But then, the disaster strikes and Antonio cycle is stolen. The only way he will get his job back is, if he finds his bike. Antonio with his protagonist son, Bruno, comes to the city to find his lost bike and to seek justice.
This film masterpiece is one of the finest works of Roberto Rossellini. The story is about a 12-year-old, Edmund, who lives with his family in a devastated building, where five other families have also sought refuge. Edmund’s brother is a former Nazi and is on the run from the police. His father is too ill to help the family.
In such a situation, it comes down to the 12-year-old Edmund to earn for his family. The case pushes the innocent child into the black market, and this is where one of his former teachers comes to the rescue.
On return to his fishing village in native Italia, the dreams of Antonio are shattered as all of his investments are gone when the boat, he has spent on, is severely destroyed by a sea storm. Antonio finds himself at the expense of his rivals. He is forced to work for them. During all these proceedings, his family ties are destroying, and it is disintegrating rapidly. Seeing all this, Antonio’s dreams and his trust on social fabric fade away swiftly.
Francesca and Walter, a criminal couple, are on the run from the authorities. During a tough phase in their mutual life, they part ways for the time being and find refuge in far off places, to avoid the law. Francesca finds work with a group of peasant women in the rice fields of Po Plain. Slowly she starts finding solace in her new life where she gets hard-earned, clean money.
When Walter returns to her, she finds it hard to get along with him and to get back into the criminal world which she has left far behind.
This movie shows the horrific side of the capitalist world. Toto is an orphan, brought up by Lolotta who found him in her cabbage patch. When Lolo dies, Toto leaves the orphanage and lives with a group of homeless in their junkyard.
Everything is going well until oil is discovered underneath the yard where Toto and his lowly friends live. Capitalists come in, trying all they can do to drag Toto and his friends out of the place so they can benefit from the reserves.
When Umberto, an old pensioner, finds it hard to pay his long overdue monthly rents, he fakes illness to go to the hospital and spend some time there. His only companion, his dog, is also parted from him during these developments. Umberto gives it to Maria, who is a maid of his landlady, to take care of the dog until his return.
These are some of the many movies which showed Italian Neorealism. The idea remained active in the Italian film industry until the turn of the 1950s. Economic Miracle happened in Italy, as a result of which people saw an increase in their wages and an improvement in their lifestyles. Neorealist films weren’t much relevant anymore. So, their demands decreased drastically.
Moreover, the American cinema was at its boom as well, during this phase of the previous century. As more films came to the fore, in the Hollywood, which showed a positive side of life, the demand of neorealist movies lowered among the Italian people. Italian people.
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