CRITICAL RECEPTION AND LEGACY
While the key works of Italian neorealism helped to change the direction of the art form and remain today original contributions to film language, they were, with the exception of Rome, Open City , relatively unpopular in Italy. They were far more successful abroad and among filmmakers and critics. In addition, it became more and more difficult to make neorealist films, as political pressures to present a rosy view of Italy limited government financing from the ruling Christian Democratic party. One of the paradoxes of the neorealist era is that the ordinary Italians whom such films set out to portray were relatively uninterested in their onscreen self-image. In fact, of the approximately eight hundred films produced between 1945 and 1953 in Italy, only a relatively small number (about 10 percent) could be classified as neorealist, and most of these works were box office failures. The Italian public was more interested in Italian films that employed, however obliquely, the cinematic codes of Hollywood or in the vast numbers of films imported from Hollywood itself.
When recognizable traditional Hollywood film genres were mixed with neorealist themes, greater box office success was assured. Examples of this development within neorealism toward commercial film genres include Vivere in pace ( To Live in Peace , Luigi Zampa, 1947); Senza pietà ( Without Pity , Alberto Lattuada, 1948), scripted in part by Fellini; Riso amaro ( Bitter Rice , Giuseppe De Santis, 1948)—the neorealist exception, a box office hit; and Il cammino della speranza ( The Path of Hope , Pietro Germi, 1950). Films such as these continued the shift away from the war themes of Rossellini to the interest in postwar reconstruction typical of De Sica's best efforts, but they are even more important as an indication of how the Italian cinema moved gradually closer to conventional American themes and film genres. Neorealist style in these films becomes more and more of a hybrid, combining some elements identified with neorealism with others taken from the commercial cinema of Hollywood or Rome.
Besides resistance at the box office, where ordinary Italians preferred Hollywood works or Italian films with a Hollywood flavor, even the most famous neorealist directors soon grew restless at the insistence on the part of Italian intellectuals and social critics that films should always have a social or ideological purpose. In Italian cinematic history this transitional phase of development is often called the "crisis" of neorealism. In retrospect, it was the critics who were suffering an intellectual crisis; Italian cinema was evolving naturally toward a film language concerned more with psychological problems and a visual style no longer defined solely by the use of nonprofessionals, on-location shooting, and documentary effects. Three early films by Michelangelo Antonioni (b. 1912), Fellini, and Rossellini are crucial to this development. Cronaca di un amore ( Story of a Love Affair , 1950), Antonioni's first feature film, is a film noir in which the director's distinctive photographic signature is already evident, with its characteristic long shots, tracks, and pans following the actors, and modernist editing techniques that attempt to reflect the rhythm of daily life. Fellini's La Strada (1954), awarded an Oscar ® for Best Foreign Language Film, is a poetic parable that explores a particular Fellinian mythology concerned with spiritual poverty and the necessity for grace or salvation (defined in a strictly secular sense). Rossellini's "cinema of the reconstruction" in Viaggio in Italia ( Voyage in Italy , 1953), starring Ingrid Bergman, marks his move away from the problems of the working class or the partisan experience to explore psychological problems, middle-class protagonists, and a more complex camera style not unlike that developed by Antonioni.
Neorealism's legacy was to be profound. The French New Wave (Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer) embraced neorealism as proof that filmmaking could be possible without a huge industrial structure behind it and that filmmakers could be as creative as novelists. In particular, they appreciated the psychological move beyond neorealist themes in Antonioni and Rossellini. In India and Latin America, the classics of neorealism inspired filmmakers to shoot simple stories about ordinary people. In Brazil, for example, the Cinema Novo movement was clearly indebted to Italian neorealism, especially in such works as Nelson Pereira dos Santos's Rio 40 Graus ( Rio 40 Degrees , 1955) or Anselmo Duarte's O Pagador de Promessas ( Payer of Promises , 1962). In India, Satyajit Ray's debt to Rossellini, Visconti, and De Sica in the so-called "Apu trilogy"—Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1957), and Apur Sansar (1959)—has been frequently confirmed by the director's own testimony. Even in Hollywood in the immediate postwar period, such important works as Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948) and Edward Dmytryk's Christ in Concrete (1949) show the direct influence of neorealism's preference for authentic locations within the American tradition of film noir.
Most importantly, however, a second generation of Italian directors reacted directly to the model of the neorealist cinema. The early films of Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922–1975), Bernardo Bertolucci (b. 1940), Marco Bellocchio (b. 1939), Paolo (b. 1931) and Vittorio (b. 1929) Taviani, and Ermanno Olmi (b. 1931), particularly those shot in black and white, returned in some measure to the conventions of documentary photography, nonprofessional actors, authentic locations, and social themes. But this second generation also combined lessons from their neorealist predecessors with very different ideas taken from the French New Wave, and they were far more committed (with the exception of Olmi) to an aggressively Marxist worldview. Olmi continued to be true to the neorealist preference for nonprofessional actors in such important works as Il posto ( The Sound of Trumpets , 1961), I fidanzati ( The Fiancées , 1963), L'albero degli zoccoli ( The Tree of the Wooden Clogs , 1978), and Il mestiere delle armi ( Profession of Arms , 2001). The neorealist heritage may still be detected, with a postmodern twist, in the cinema of Nanni Moretti (b. 1953), such as Caro diario ( Dear Diary , 1993) and the more recent La stanza del figlio ( The Son's Room , 2001).
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