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An Introduction to Italian Neorealism – Un Certain Regard

Welcome to the new Film column of The Hippo Collective ! As the magazine is about tackling various and off-the-beaten-path topics and not always very mainstream popular subjects, I thought it could be interesting to apply that to cinema as well in a weekly column. Un Certain Regard, literally translated as “A Certain Look” is actually a category at the Cannes Film Festival in France, that seeks to put a more audacious and original cinema with not-so-famous directors into the spotlight than that of the official selection. Now, I am not going to talk about indie and art-house cinema only in this column as it will also tackle absolute classics, but rather old ones – the main goal being the ambition to discover, or rediscover our old classics or the new independent cinema; without having the ambition to be a professional cinema critic of course !

Un Certain Regard will be divided between two short lists of a particular cinema movement twice a month, and interspersed by a monthly post on an “Art-house film of the month” and another one on the work of a specific director. Let’s start with Italian Neorealism – happy reading !

This movement in Italian cinema lasted from the mid-forties to mid-fifties, and was heavily influenced by World War II, which resulted in films mainly based on the Italians’ state of mind after the war and the everyday life, marked by injustice, a struggle to fight oppression and to survive despite poverty. The characters were therefore almost only representing working class, to illustrate the tensions between them and the bosses or higher social classes. They were usually filmed with non-professional actors and on location, giving the films an even bigger realism. Here is a short list of classics of Italian neorealism:

Ladri di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, Vittorio De Sica, 1948): This film by one of the greatest Italian directors of that time tells the story of a poor father, Antonio Ricci, looking for a job after World War II – which he finally does find; but as he needs a bike in order to get the job as a bill-poster, his wife goes and takes one in exchange for bedsheets. However, the next day on his first day of work, Antonio has his bike stolen as he is posting bills and does not pay attention to it. A series of adventures will ensue for this dad to find his bike back, as the whole survival of his family depends of it…

 

Ossessione (Obsession, Luchino Visconti, 1942): Regarded as the first neorealist Italian film, Ossessione is about a love story between two lovers: a wanderer mechanic, and the wife of a wealthy restaurant owner.  Based on the James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, this story of crime and adultery is the first film of Luchino Visconti and an absolute classic of the genre not to be missed.

Umberto D. (Vittorio De Sica, 1952): Umberto D. is a poor retired government worker and struggles to even pay the rent of his apartment. His landlady is very greedy and does not want to give him more time to gather the money he needs to pay, so as he does not manage to pay his rent entirely he tries to be admitted in a hospital, and finds the place where he lives changed by the landlady when he gets back. After having fought for his life the entire time, he finally gives up and tries to commit suicide but is saved by his beloved dog. Umberto D. is a moving and touching film, and also considered as one of the greatest works of Italian neorealism.

Roma, città aperta (Rome, Open City, Roberto Rossellini, 1945): Last but not least, Rome, Open City by Rossellini pictures the Italian capital in 1944 under the Nazi occupation. The film shows the resistance of both the Italian people – through the characters of the picture – but also of Rome itself, which can be considered as a character in itself. The film has won the Golden Palm at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival, and although it is a dark and tragic motion picture, the realism it conveys and the fact that it was produced on a shoestring budget along with the beautiful way of filming promoted it to the rank of one of the best neorealist films ever made, and a major film in the history of cinema in general.

Are there any other Italian neorealist films you’ve seen and liked ?

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