Running throughout the month of August at TIFF Bell Lightbox will be a retrospective on some of the best of Italian Neorealist filmmaking. Most of the attention this summer has been on the Fellini retrospective but these masterworks of Italian Neorealism laid the foundation for the New Wave of European filmmakers of the late 1950′s and 1960′s. Italian Neorealism doesn’t have the fan base that Italian and French New Wave filmmaking has and many of the films being shown have rarely been seen by many cinephiles, so this is a great opportunity to see these unique films.
Italian Neorealism emerged as a reaction to mainstream filmmaking that was being regarded as both as bland and out of touch with modern life after World War II. The movement also was reflection of the harsh life of Europeans coming out of ashes and ruins of the war. What made this style so unique is that filmmakers not only filmed in real locations but they cast non-actors in key roles feeling that only “real people” will give an authenticity to the work. The subject matter is quite varied but many of the films deal with everyday life with an emphasis on poverty and the common man.
Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) is generally regarded as the first Italian Neorealist film but its Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (Roma, citta aperta) that is generally regarded as the one that had the world take notice of Italian Neorealism. Rome, Open City was shot in the real life war-ravaged streets of Rome in 1945 that opened the floodgates of this new form of cinema. Rossellini’s film prints haven’t been looked after like other influential directors so it is extra special that the screening of Rome, Open City will be on a new restored print.
Another must see is Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy (1953). Starring Rossellini’s then wife Ingrid Bergman and George Saunders, it is the best example of showing the difference between the glossy look of Hollywood and the realistic look of these Italian films by having two major Hollywood stars shown as a realistic couple.
The most famous film of this movement is Vittoria De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (Ladri de biciclette) from 1948. This simple story of a father and son trying to recover a stolen bicycle is one of the best examples of Italian Neorealism with its harsh depiction of poverty and the working class on the streets in Italy. This film had the biggest impact on other films around the world and makes most critics top 10 best of lists to this day.
A retrospective like this is also the best opportunity to see films that rarely get to see in public and are hard, if not impossible to find on home video like Luchino Visconti’s Days of Glory (Giorni di gloria) and Renato Castellani’s Under the Sun of Rome (Sotto il sole di Roma). Particular rare is Giuseppe De Santis’s Bitter Rice (1949) is a must see and TIFF/Cinematique has been reportedly trying to get a copy to show for over 20 years.
For fans who can get enough of Federico Fellini there will also be a few early films that he didn’t direct but worked on the screenplay including Piertro Germni’s The Way of Hope (II cammino della spernza) from 1950. Vittorio De Sica’s Miracle in Milan (Miracolo a Milano) didn’t have anything to do with Fellini directly but its visual style 1951 predates what Fellini did by two decades.
By 1960 the movement was pretty much at its end but there was a few features still in this style like Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Acattone (1961) and Vittorio De Seta’s Bandits of Orgosolo (1961) that closed out the era. During the 1950′s transitional films by Federico Fellini like La Strada (also being shown at TIFF Bell Lightbox this summer) and early works by Michelangelo Antonioni ushered in the New Wave movement of the 1960′s. Film styles became more abstract and much more about style than cinematic realism and the hub of European cinema moved to the French with filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and FranÃ§ois Truffaut building on what the Italians did with their cinema at a critical time in film history.
Check out tiff.net for show times and more details on the Masterworks of Italian Neorealism retrospective running from July 28 to August 28th.