The Place of Neorealism in Modern Cinema
Neorealism was the movement that took filmmaking out of the studios and into the streets of cities and relied on the performances of everyday workers. It was a glimpse into the lives of the citizens of a country and a style that brought a greater sense of reality to film, but what sort of resonance does it have in a modern world? The films Irma Vep, and Icicle Thief explore the validity of film as an art form and as entertainment.
In Olivier Assayas’ film, 1996 Irma Vep, the French auteur director presents a self-reflexive musing on the cinema that pays tribute to everything from silent and experimental film to the French New Wave movement. The critic in the film dismisses French cinema as boring, something made for intellectuals, and therefore, something that has no real place in society.
When this statement is related to neorealism, it is possible to understand why the place of the movement is questioned in modern times. Though intellectually compelling, the importance of the films generally lies in the fact that they were filmed on location and opted largely for the use of peasants, workers and townspeople instead of actual actors. At the time of their creation, neorealist films offered a glimpse into post-war Europe and dealt with contemporary social and political issues, but in today’s world, much of the meaning is lost, except on those who have studied the history of both Europe and film-making. Take a neorealist film away from the context of the movement, and what remains is oftentimes, as critic Bazin puts it, “a mundane” event.
De Sica's Bicycle Thieves
Nichetti's Icicle Thief
Director Maurizio Nichetti takes this a step further in his 1989 parody of Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist classic, Bicycle Thieves.The resulting Icicle Thief directly references the classic while commenting on the neorealist movement as a whole. The film shows Nichetti himself in the television studio, waiting to discuss his film "Icicle Thief" after its television premiere. As the night goes on, advertisements interrupt scenes and even dialogue, “editing for content” changes major plot points, and the world of televised commercials begins to invade the film. What the bastardized broadcast becomes is a bizarre, yet happy tale instead of a tragic drama, which, to the chagrin of the director, pleases the viewers. Though Icicle Thief has a similar mise en scene as Italian neorealist films, his treatment of the story defies the real-life principle behind the movement. The parody shows that today’s “real-life” doesn’t leave space for mundane tragedies; it is a new, technological world.
Nichetti questions the place of film in a digital world, but he does not suggest that it has lost its value as an artistic medium. He does, however, imply the incompatibility of artistic expression and film’s value as widespread entertainment. This suggestion leads the viewer to wonder if the critic in Irma Vep wasn’t right. Could these more serious auteur films have lost their place with the masses? Are they really reserved for intellectuals and critics? Possibly, but does that affect their value? I think not. Just because certain dislike Cubism as a style of art, does not affect the value of the movement, because art is made to be appreciated by those who will. As long as there is an audience for any form of art, its validity in society remains.
The line between entertainment and art can be blurred, but in some cases, there is no need to combine the two. Art films can remain art, while other films can be left for pure entertainment purposes. There is no reason to consolidate the two.
If you are interested in learning a bit more about Italian Neorealism, check out this hub.
- Italian Neorealism: an Overview of Post-War Cinema
A look into the social drive and independent aesthetics of Italian cinema after WWII