Neorealism

   The ending to the original (dubbed) Spanish version of Vittorio de Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948) included a voice of hope that was meant to counterbalance the grimness of the original. This not only underlines the problems neorealism encountered under Francisco Franco's regime, but also shows the very real difficulties of any kind of approach that did not follow the official government version of Spain as a nation with no major problems. It was not easy for Spanish cultural authorities to explain their reluctance to allow neorealism to be introduced into Spanish cinema. Of course, some of the movement's leading creators were communist or at the very least Left-wing, but there was also a Catholic and conservative trend apparent in the movement.
   The earliest attempts to assimilate the lessons of neorealism into Spanish cinema was Surcos (Burrows, 1951), directed by José Antonio Nieves Conde, a film not dissimilar in plot to Luchino Visconti's later Rocco and His Brothers (1960): in both, a family from the country comes to a tenement house in the big city and find their hopes dashed against the inhumanity of urban life. The realist impulse was loaded with warning against progress, and ideologically it was closer to Falangism than to a working-class perspective, but at last Spanish film had dared to deal with social reality. The same year, Edgar Neville similarly used a realist approach to bemoan the disappearance of traditional lifestyles in El último caballo (The Last Horse, 1950).
   The neorealist model was too influential to be ignored, and although its basic honesty was frowned upon by the authorities, some of its social awareness could be felt in films by Juan Antonio Bardem, particularly Cómicos (Comedians, 1954) and Calle mayor (Main Street, 1956). Rather than De Sicca or Visconti, he chose to be influenced by Federico Fellini: the latter is very close in atmosphere to I vitelloni (1953). Some other films used ideas of neorealism, although social critique was almost absent. Ladislao Vajda's Mi tío Jacinto (Uncle Jacinto, 1956) is among the best examples of a balance between social concerns and sentimentality.
   One of the adaptations of a neorealist cinema in Spain would be to infuse it with black humor. Disguised as comedy, and pushed to absurdity, realism could be better assimilated. One of the master practitioners of this trend was Marco Ferreri, who did a few satiric comedies in the late 1950s: Los chicos (The Kids, 1959), El pisito (The Little Flat, 1959), and El cochecito (The Motorized Wheelchair, 1960). This is the kind of approach Luis G. Berlanga would also follow in his two masterpieces: Plácido (1962) and El verdugo (The Executioner, 1964). Although both remain comedies, he learned from neorealism an awareness of reality as a social construct. Neorealist inspiration was also used effectively by Carlos Saura in 1960 in a film entitled Los Golfos (The Lazy Guys, 1960). The realist impulse continued strong in Spanish cinema after the main neorealist period had ended.
   Historical Dictionary of Spanish Cinema by Alberto Mira
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   The most celebrated movement in the history of Italian cinema, neorealism was in fact always more of a common socially committed approach to filmmaking embraced by a number of directors in the immediate postwar period than a structured artistic movement. Nevertheless, while its formal status as a movement has long been questioned and its precise nature, extent, and defining characteristics have continued to be debated, there has never been any doubt about neorealism's crucial role in the revival of the Italian cinema in the immediate postwar period.
   Since what came to be regarded as neorealist films were created more from a spontaneous desire to use cinema to engage with social reality rather than to follow the dictates of a manifesto or a set of rules, the precise features of neorealist cinema have always proven difficult to define. However, at least some of the elements that characterized this new cinema, which in its turn to reality implicitly sought to reverse two decades of Fascist mystification and evasion, were: a stronger sense of realism, a focus on the everyday life of ordinary people, an attitude of social commitment and human solidarity, the use of quasi-documentary techniques and nonprofessional actors, on-location shooting, natural lighting, long takes, and unobtrusive editing.
   The three directors most closely associated with the movement and widely regarded as its founding fathers were Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, and Luchino Visconti. Rossellini, in particular, having already directed three relatively realistic films during the Fascist period, is considered to have founded neorealism proper with Roma citta aperta (Rome Open City, 1945, also known as Open City), subsequently consolidating this new approach to filmmaking with the two other films of his so-called war trilogy, Paisa (Paisan, 1946) and Germania anno zero (Germany Year Zero, 1947). De Sica, whose earlier I bambini ci guardano (The Children Are Watching Us, 1943) would often be hailed as a forerunner to the full-fledged neorealism of the postwar period, created, in partnership with screen-writer Cesare Zavattini, what are considered to be three of the movement's key films: Sciuscia (Shoe-Shine, 1946), Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, 1948), and Umberto D (1952). Luchino Visconti, whose first film, Ossessione (Obsession, 1943), is canonically cited as the movement's most immediate precursor, offered what was perhaps the purest possible version of neorealism in La terra trema (The Earth Trembles, 1948), a loose adaptation of Giovanni Verga's 19th-century novel filmed entirely on location in a small Sicilian fishing village, employing only the local people as actors and all speaking in their own dialect. Unfortunately, even if now regarded as one of the movement's most exemplary films, La terra trema was also the least successful at the box office. Among the other directors most closely associated with the movement in the immediate postwar period were Giuseppe De Santis, Luigi Zampa, Aldo Vergano, Pietro Germi, and Renato Castellani. However, even such celebrated neorealist films as De Santis's Riso amaro (Bitter Rice, 1949) and Germi's In nome della legge (In the Name of the Law, 1948) have often been seen by historians of the movement as already moving away from the social concerns of "pure" neorealism toward a more entertaining cinema of genre and spectacle, inaugurating what would later come to be known pejoratively as "pink" or "rosy" neorealism. Other historians suggest, however, that it might be more accurate to talk of "neorealisms" in the plural and to see these directors and others, at least in their films of the immediate postwar period, as all creating their own valid versions of a cinema engaging with reality rather than striving to evade it.
   It is instructive to note, however, that while Italian neorealism was universally honored as an artistic movement and internationally acclaimed, in Italy itself neorealist films only ever formed a very small part of national production and exhibition. Furthermore, although they were critically praised at home, neorealist films were not particularly popular either with the Italian authorities, who objected to the poor image of Italy generally presented, or with Italian audiences, who showed a distinct preference for the entertaining melodramas and action-adventures being turned out by the more commercially oriented film industry. Consequently, while the ethical approach and the technical innovations that neorealism had introduced in its short flowering would continue to influence filmmakers for many years to come, it is generally agreed that by the early 1950s the movement itself had already passed into history.
   Historical Dictionary of Italian Cinema by Alberto Mira

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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