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Italian Neorealism

Updated on January 21, 2015

The Bicycle Thief


The famous movement- Italian Neorealism

“Rome, Open City”. “The Bicycle Thieves”. “Paisan”. “Umberto D”. These are the relics of a bygone era - an era we know as Italian Neorealism. How it would have been possible to represent the post World War II effects, if not through the help of this movement is difficult to imagine.

Italian Neorealism gave a new start to Italian cinema after the fall of Mussolini's fascist regime. This contemporary style of film making inspired writers and directors all over the world. The sense of cinematic realism touched the hearts of millions and became one of the significant reasons for the social as well as cultural progress in Italy. The movement supported anti-fascism which was one of the remarkable development during the post-World War period, and its influence clearly visible in these films. Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittoria De Sica played an influential role in presenting the real life scenarios in a miraculous way through their work. These directors brought a revolution by introducing some trends that added a new essence to fictional cinema. Cesare Zavattini, the famous screenwriter and poet, scripted most of the neorealist films, and is one amongst the first supporters of Neorealist movement. The chemistry between Zavattini and De Sica is indubitably visible in the masterpieces created by them.


Looking back into the history of Italian neorealism, Luchino Visconti's 1943 film, “Ossessione” is believed to be the first Italian neorealist film that was based on the novel, 'The Postman Always Rings Twice'. The movie was banned by the Fascist government after a few screenings as it stimulated the reactions from Fascist and Church authorities. 'Ossessione' faced a lot of problems and gradually the film was destroyed by the Fascists. Between all this chaos, Visconti managed to save the duplicate negative that helped him in developing the existing prints. The copyright issues and limited screening, the film managed to garner acknowledgment and was perceived as the first neorealist film. Later, a 1945 release, 'Rome, Open city', an Italian war drama, represented a perfect example of neorealism. Directed by Roberto Rossellini, the film was showered with awards, including a nomination for 'Best Adapted Screenplay' for An Academy Award. This was the phase in the history of Italy when the word neorealism spread all over the nation, bringing new hope and inspiration. The movie was not only appreciated in Italy but critically acclaimed world over. The movement continued with some remarkable and outstanding films like: 'Shoeshine' by Vittorio De Sica in 1946, 'Paisan' by Roberto Rossellini in 1946, 'Bicycle Thieves' by Vittorio De Sica in 1948, 'Stromboli' by Roberto Rossellini in 1950 and 'Umberto D' by Vittorio De Sica in 1952. With Umberto D, the Italian neorealism movement came to an end.

The style of film making

The sense of purity and reality, hidden behind the making of these films reflected a new revolutionary style. A horrific scene presented in a comedic fashion is one of the trademarks of neorealist films. Stories were narrated idiosyncratically, presenting genuine emotions of the people. The films were shot on location because the studios were destroyed during the war and directors preferred real life scenarios to project the suffering and condition of the people. To illustrate the everyday struggle and life of the people, non professional actors were selected to act in the films, except in few ones that required exceptional performances by experienced actors. Until then, people had a misconception about films that where shot on location. They believed that such kind of films were made in low budgets.

Why were they made? (Motive)

The main motive of neorealist films was to portray the individual's struggle within a society that suffered a social, economical and political turmoil. To get the in depth feelings of misery and poverty, directors of this era selected lower class people as characters who could portray the best emotion. Children were given special attention in neorealist films and played major roles that were very noticeable. While Hollywood actors lived glamorous lives in big houses with fancy cars, actors in neorealist movies were nothing like them. Acting skills was not the only criteria required to fit in to the roles of these films. Directors looked for peopled who actually resembled the common man. The films were made as episodes, exposing both the ordinary and tragic events developing in the world. These films described the life lead by the people after the war, and how they dealt with it and slowly made progress years after all the violence and strife. Their thematic principles and traditional experimental techniques motivated the world of cinema. Fundamental camera techniques like hand-held cameras were used knowingly to give these films an extraordinary touch that highlighted the documentary visual style of work.

Ruling the Italian cinema between 1943-1952, Italian Neorealism was successful in leaving its impact by influencing films all over the globe. Its impact can especially be seen in French new wave cinema. Although, the movement lasted only a short while, but it managed to alleviate (however little) the sufferings of the people by strengthening the social and economical condition of Italy through its impact. Its politeness and simplicity touched the core of reality. During the neorealism period, twenty one or so neorealist films were made. The cause of its end lays with the fact that Italy, after the historical crisis began a gradual road to recovery and prosperity. Though it had a very limited life, Italian Neorealism created history and contributed tremendously in changing people’s lives.


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    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 

      3 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      I haven't heard of the movies you mentioned, but they sound very interesting. Thank you for bringing them to light. I am going to look them up.

      Blessings to you

    • Prabhjot Saini profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Delhi, India

      Its good to know that you have interest in these great films.

      Thank you for taking out time and reading it.

      Have a great day........

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      3 years ago from San Diego California

      I have heard of The Bicycle Thief, which I think is included on most lists of the best films of all time. There are definitely some great films out there that Americans mostly ignore because we don't look past Hollywood. Great hub!

    • Prabhjot Saini profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Delhi, India

      Thank you tobusiness....... You know I had written this article long back and the other day I felt like sharing it...... The writing experience was great..... I had read so many articles and visited many sites for the information...... Yes these films are very special as they were made when nothing good was happening around..... It was a big challenge for them to make such films in such worst scenarios....... I have a lot of respect and love for these films.......

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      3 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      I love those old foreign films, a case of life inspiring art and vice versa. Isn't it amazing what can be achieved when we're forced to go back to basics. An interesting and informative article.


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