ITALIAN NEO-REALISM CINEMA



About Italian Neo-Realism Cinema

Before the indies and even before the French New Wave, Italian neo-realism staked out new cinematic territory. One of those blanket terms that mean all things to all people, neo-realism has few absolutes, though there are elements that set the Italian version distinctly apart. Screenwriter and poet Cesare Zavattini wrote an actual manifesto to guide these films, but their creation was just as much a result of timing, chance and fluke. 

Unquestionably, their greatest single influence was the anti-Fascism that marked World War II's immediate postwar period. Key elements are an emphasis on real lives (close to but not quite documentary style), an entirely or largely non-professional cast, and a focus on collectivity rather than the individual. Solidarity is important, along with an implicit criticism of the status quo. Plot and story come about organically from these episodes and often turn on quite tiny moments. Cinematically, neo-realism pushed filmmakers out of the studio and on to the streets, the camera freed-up and more vernacular, the emphasis away from fantasy and towards reality. Despite the rather short run - 1943 to 1952 - the heavyweight films of the period and the principles that guided them put Italian cinema on the map at the time and continue to shape contemporary global filmmaking.


 Italian Neo-Realism by Megan Ratner

 Introduction
Before the indies and even before the French New Wave, Italian neo-realism staked out new cinematic territory. One of those blanket terms that mean all things to all people, neo-realism has few absolutes, though there are elements that set the Italian version distinctly apart. 
Screenwriter and poet Cesare Zavattini wrote an actual manifesto to guide these films, but their creation was just as much a result of timing, chance and fluke. Unquestionably, their greatest single influence was the anti-Fascism that marked World War II's immediate postwar period. Key elements are an emphasis on real lives (close to but not quite documentary style), an entirely or largely non-professional cast, and a focus on collectivity rather than the individual. Solidarity is important, along with an implicit criticism of the status quo. Plot and story come about organically from these episodes and often turn on quite tiny moments. 
Cinematically, neo-realism pushed filmmakers out of the studio and on to the streets, the camera freed-up and more vernacular, the emphasis away from fantasy and towards reality. Despite the rather short run - 1943 to 1952 - the heavyweight films of the period and the principles that guided them put Italian cinema on the map at the time and continue to shape contemporary global filmmaking. 


Origins
A little history goes a long way toward understanding Italian neo-realism. By the outbreak of World War II, the country had been under Benito Mussolini's hefty thumb since 1924. In the regime's 1930s heydays, swank productions set in big hotels, tony nightclubs and ocean liners made up the "white telephone" movies, the shorthand term for their decadent Deco interiors. 

The protagonists always found a resolution to their insipid dilemmas, the prevailing Italian style as unchallenging as blowing bubbles. There were also plenty of American imports, equally unreflective of Italian realities. Describing this time, Federico Fellini said, "For my generation, born in the 20s, movies were essentially American. American movies were more effective, more seductive. They really showed a paradise on earth, a paradise in a country they called America."
Whether they were being shown the glories of their Roman past, their fascist future or ofl'America, a country unreal outside the movie-house, what Italians rarely saw were images that reflected their lives. As early as 1935, anti-Fascist journalist Leo Longanesi urged directors to "go into the streets, into the barracks, into the train stations; only in this way can an Italian cinema be born." 

Aside from the political realities, it's worth remembering that Italy was still in the first stages of a huge transition from agriculture to manufacturing. People struggled; the economic miracle was still more than a decade away. Yet few films showed this, the exceptions beingTreno popolare (1933) by Rafaello Matarazzo and, paradoxically, in documentaries produced by LUCE institute, under complete control of the regime. 

For many Italians, neo-realist films put images to the ideas of the Resistance. In the film journals Cinema and Bianco e Nero, writers called for a cinema that resembled the verismo(realism) of literature. This had begun as a 19th century literary movement which was expanded by Alberto MoraviaItalo CalvinoCesare Pavese and Pier Paolo Pasolini, most of whom wrote for - or about - the movies as well. Although philosophical ideas informed Italian neo-realism, it is very much a cinematic creation. 

As Calvino pointed out, "neo-realists knew too well that what counted was the music and not the libretto." The aim was not to record the social problems but to express them in an entirely new way.
Jean Renoir's Toni (1935) and Alessandro Blassetti's1860 (1934) influenced neo-realism, but the movement was to a great extent a matter of 1940s practicalities: with Cinécittà (Rome's studio complex) relegated to refugees, films had to be shot outside. Surrounded by the shambolic ruins of World War II, human and structural, filmmakers had ready-made drama even in their backdrop, the atmosphere anxiety-charged and utterly uncertain. 

After twenty-one years under Mussolini, all bets were off as to what direction Italy would take. In the war's aftermath, members of the Resistance (including several of the neo-realist directors) had to come to terms those who collaborated. Though unstated, this almost civil war-like tension fuels neo-realist cinema. 
So what is neo-realism? André Bazin called it a cinema of "fact" and "reconstituted reportage," its antecedents in the anti-Fascist movement with which these directors identified. Although they owed a debt to Renoir (with whom both Luchino Visconti and Michelangelo Antonioni had worked), the neo-realists "respected" the entirety of the reality they filmed. This meant occasionally showing scenes in real-time and always resisting the temptation to manipulate by editing. Scenes are shot on location, with no professional extras and often a largely unprofessional cast. Set in rural areas or working-class neighborhoods, the stories focus on everyday people, often children, with an emphasis on the unexceptional routines of ordinary life. 

Cesare Zavattini, who functions as a kind of godfather of the movement, stated: "This powerful desire of the [neo-realist] cinema to see and to analyze, this hunger for reality, for truth, is a kind of concrete homage to other people, that is, to all who exist." The aim, method and philosophy was fundamentally humanist: to show Italian life without embellishment and without artifice. Breezy fare this is not, but it did significantly alter European filmmaking and eventually cinema around the world. Neo-realism reflected a new freedom in Italy and the willingness to pose provocative questions about what movies could do. As director Giuseppe Bertolucci (Bernardo's brother) noted: "The cinema was born with neo-realism." 


Unexpected American Influences
It's no accident that Michael Tolkin chose neo-realism's classic Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, 1948) to rock his studio exec's world in The Player. Though it's in some ways anti-Hollywood, neo-realism drew a great deal from American noir writing and films. Luchino Visconti based Ossessione (Obsession, 1942) on James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice. Visconti used long takes and complex shots to convey the dismal and ridiculous world of the three protagonists, the lovers (played by Massimo Girotti and Clara Calamai) and the husband they bump off (played by Juan De Landa). Visconti's neo-realism heightens the interplay between characters and surroundings, the bleak, unforgiving interiors and street shots reflective of the lousy hand these no-hopers have been dealt.

Ossessione (Obsession, 1942)

Visconti described his own style as "anthropomorphic cinema," declaring, "I could make a film in front of a wall if I knew how to find the data of man's true humanity and how to express it." Although Mussolini himself approved of the film, his son Vittorio (who ran the film journal Cinema) had a fit about its bleak Italian landscapes, the natural light, and all the shooting on location in the Po Valley. 
Roberto Rossellini's Roma: città aperta (Open City, 1946) shows most clearly neo-realism's link with the Resistance movement. Set during the Nazi occupation of Rome, it mines the tensions of the foreign presence and the divisions among those who abetted and those who opposed. Made under duress (black market film stock, little studio shooting, rushes unexamined, sound synchronized in post-production, and, no surprise, a tiny budget), Open City has an eyewitness immediacy tempered with operatic emotion. Pragmatic realities drove the film as much as the script, co-written by Sergio Amedei and Federico Fellini.

The hybrid of melodrama and actual footage was the result of Rossellini's populist, episodic approach, the story told in bursts, intense and unsparing details of ordinary lives undone by the trauma of occupation. Veracity rather than comfort informed the narrative. As the Gestapo search for and find a key member of the Resistance, Rossellini keeps his primary focus on Pina (Anna Magnani), engaged to marry an unassuming but Partisan typesetter by whom she is already pregnant. Open City may be most cited for two unforgettable scenes - a torture scene, to which Reservoir Dogs's lopped-ear scene bears a marked resemblance; and a sudden and dramatic death scene, a final posture evocative of painterly renditions of Christian martyrs. It also emphasizes the futility of war, its senselessness, a theme Rossellini struck throughout his war trilogy.


In Paisà (Paisan, 1946), Rossellini directly engaged the effects of the American presence in Italy, complicated by the Yankee shift from enemy to ally. In each of the six episodes, he examines the expectations and disappointments inherent in the crossing of two such different cultures and the inevitable - sometimes fatal - misapprehensions. Newsreel footage separates the vignettes and, throughout, Rossellini plays with the stereotypical images held by each side, his overall theme being that war is an equal-opportunity brutalizer.


Germania anno zero (Germany Year Zero, 1947) has a more personal feeling, influenced, no doubt, by the death of Rossellini's eldest son in 1946. Set in the rubble of Berlin, the film has a young protagonist (rare for Rossellini), a 15-year-old who lives with his father and sister, who falls under the spell of a pedophile, eeking cash from the sale of this scammer's Third Reich memorabilia. Potent and unbearable images make the desperation of the city clear; early on, for example, a horse lies dead in the street, hit perhaps by a tram, as people matter-of-factly carve-and-carry its meat away.

Corrupted on all sides, the boy eventually resorts to the most desperate of measures.
As in Obsession, the cityscape is here used to reflect the anomie and disconnection. Open City ends horribly but with a glimmer of hope as young chidren witness an execution yet, together, return to the city; in Germany Year Zero, life is as stony as the razed city. It completes Rossellini's World War II trilogy, strikingly ending his work from the German perspective, the devastations occasioned by Third Reich policies no easier on its own people. 

Labor Intensive
La Terra Trema (The Earth Trembles, 1948) took Luchino Visconti to Aci Trezza on Sicily. Far more documentary in style than the other neo-realist films, The Earth Trembles relies on a completely nonprofessional cast. Visconti explained the day's shooting to the villagers and used ambient sound, allowing the people to speak their dialect (necessitating subtitles even for the rest of Italy). 




The film is loosely based on Giovanni Verga's novel, I Malavoglia (The House of the Medlar Tree). When an island family risks their savings to buy a boat and fish for themselves, they struggle to pay it off, fishing in bad weather until a storm destroys their boat. Classically organized - Visconti was a veteran of opera - the film allowed him to linger on a cyclical life on the verge of disappearance (Orson Welles once noted that Visconti photographed fishermen as if they were Vogue models.) He used deep focus shots, lighting only the nighttime fishing scenes, showing their lives as an organic whole, with each aspect accorded value. 


The extremely spare soundtrack comprises few words, several silences, sometimes only the peal of bells and little music. And yet there's a timeless and deeply mythic quality to the film, its emphasis on the honor and dignity that had been attached to a life earned from the unpredictable sea. 


  
Sciuscià (Shoeshine, 1946)

Vittorio De Sica's Sciuscià (Shoeshine, 1946) begins outside Rome, in a kind of idyll of the countryside. Two shoeshine boys set aside what they've earned to buy a horse. Back in the narrow and unforgiving streets of Rome, they're roped into a blackmarket deal that goes sour.

Nabbed by the authorities, they're sent to a juvenile prison, their friendship strained nearly to breaking. After an escape, one of them accidentally dies, his death blamed on his friend. De Sica kept his exposition short, detailing the boys' existences through carefully composed scenes such as their neighboring prison cells, each one headed for a different fate. Opening and closing with the horse,

De Sica shows the freedom that's denied these two boys. His use of nonprofessionals allowed him to draw natural, seemingly improvised performances from his actors and remain, in his term, "faithful to the character."
This is especially true of his next feature, Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, 1948), the leading roles of father and son occupied by two nonprofessionals. (David O. Selznick was willing to back the film, but only with Cary Grant as lead, an offer De Sica fortunately had the confidence to refuse.) When the bicycle he needs to do his job is stolen, the young father and son scour Rome to find it; the father is finally driven to steal a ride of his own.

De Sica orchestrated the film carefully, shooting some scenes with multiple cameras and drawing attention to its existence as fiction, not a documentary. Bazin termed it the "only valid Communist film of the whole past decade" and the film was often seen as simply a criticism of working conditions in Italy at the time, when unemployment stood at 25 percent. But unlike the clearcut moralizing of Rossellini's films, De Sica's works focus on a humanist sense of individual and mass. Bicycle Thieves has a mythic feel, the father ultimately forced into thievery, each moral quandary no sooner solved than De Sica poses yet another, the father sympathetic but flawed.  

 
Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, 1948)

Italian audiences hardly embraced these new films. To be shown their country in such stark terms made the majority very unhappy. It even became part of the law: the Andreotti Law (1949), named for its author Giullio Andreotti, offered subsidies for those who followed the neo-realist style in a manner "suitable... to the best interests of Italy," but with the proviso that they avoid the blemishes on Italian life.

Legislation had little immediate effect on what was made, though the stories began to reflect the scramble for work and stability that defined this period. Visconti's terrific Bellissima (1951) centers on a daughter and fanatic stage-mamma, the inimitable Magnani, eager to get her modestly talented daughter a spot in a movie. To her husband's dismay, she squeezes every extra penny into lessons and cosmetic improvements for the little girl. Ultimately, the mother all but puts herself on the market to get the recognition she's convinced will make life worth living.

Set in a working-class Roman neighborhood, Bellissima gives rare insight into how provincial big-city life could be, each neighborhood a virtual small town, the neighbors sometimes helpful, often petty and jealous of any advantage. Though not traditionally considered a neo-realist film, Bellissima did focus on people's lives in the wake of war, the sense of wanting to better oneself and the struggle to find a way out of the grind of poverty. It becomes yet more poignant in this context.


 
Umberto D.

This sense of Rome as a small town is especially acute in Umberto D. (1951), which was De Sica's favorite film and is in many ways the masterpiece of neo-realism, an overall superb piece of work. The crisis-filled days of a pensioner, Umberto Domenico Ferrari (Carlo Battisti), and the complications of his relationship with his dog and a young maid in his apartment building become a study in the difficult drama that constitutes an ordinary life. As played by a dignified nonprofessional - a professor, who, in the event, was often subsequently taken for his character on the street - Umberto D. is stodgy, fussy, irritating and curiously sympathetic. Unlike other films of the era, this was shot nearly entirely in the Cinécittà studios.


The indignities of the family-less and indigent old-age are laid out with sensitivity but not sentimentality. Umberto is vulnerable and all but invisible, barely distinguishing himself in a crowd of protesting pensioners, desperately trying to maintain his independence and self-respect. There is no real plot other than the minuscule and life-shaping crises of late-life impoverishment. Even the end strikes a melancholy note of ambiguity.


And Suddenly It Was Over
Giuseppe De Santis's Riso amaro (Bitter Rice, 1949) was described at the time as the "last gasp of the neo-realist movement." Like Obsession, its strongest overt influences are American films - noir and westerns and even a hint of musicals). It introduced audiences to a smoldering Sylvana Mangano, who played a rice weeder. By the hundreds they descended on the Piemonte region in the postwar years and into the 1960s. The brutally exhausting work demanded precision, suited, as the voice-over states, to the delicate "hand that rocks the cradle or threads the needle." Mangano's characters long to go to America, where she's sure "everything is electric."

In Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan, 1951), De Sica kept to neo-realism's focus on the marginalized mass, but his approach marked a break with just about every other neo-realist premise.Miracle in Milan is a kind of neo-fantasy. He showed postwar conditions and real locations - in this case, the run-down outskirts of Milan - the dreariness leavened with make-believe. When his foster mother (Emma Grammatica) gives him a white dove, Toto (Francesco Golisano) can suddenly grant the wishes of his neighbors in the periferia or shantytown where they live. De Sica jettisoned chronological time, replacing logic with magic.
And yet, this has some of the grittiest urban landscapes of any of its contemporaries, the long shots of the shantytowns conveying a sense of how imprisoned the characters are. De Sica termed it a "fairy story and only intended as such," yet the film had the unintended effect of essentially signalling neo-realism's official end.


A Long Shadow
In general, people look backwards when talking about neo-realism, acknowledging its roots, according it artifact status. But the films stand on their own even without the movement they've come to represent. More important, they pointed out new directions for filmmakers in Italy and elsewhere. Both Fellini and Antonioniworked on neo-realist films and even in Fellini's later, extremely fanciful work and Antonioni's brooding studies of men and women, there's a similar urge to document Italy's social realities.

Among the filmmakers influenced by Italian neo-realism are the French New WaveDogme 95 and, as Imageswriter Chris Norton points out, the Los Angeles School of Black Independent Filmmakers (known as the L.A. School). The latter include directors such as Charles BurnettBilly WoodberryHaile Gerima and Julie Dash, all of whom have at some level addressed the working-class experience in America with methods borrowed or inspired by neo-realism.
Even such apparent non neo-realists as Bernardo BertolucciPier Paolo PasoliniErmanno OlmiPaolo andVittorio TavianiGianni Amelio and Lina Wertmüller carry over the ideas of neo-realism with their emphasis on class conflicts (the eternal north/south tension) and use of non-professional actors, particularly children, to great effect.

The last word on this goes to Fellini. He agreed in principle, he said, with the neo-realist idea of taking films from life but he redefined it for himself as "looking at reality with an honest eye - but any kind of reality; not just social reality, but also spiritual reality, metaphysical reality, anything man has inside him." Fellini taps into the essence of neo-realism, the reason the films of that particular era still appeal and the reason they continue to inspire: they address the human condition which, despite technological advances and special effects, remains very much what it was when these filmmakers took to the streets and captured what surrounded them.

Megan Ratner is an Associate Editor at Bright Lights Film JournalHer work has appeared inBlack Book, Filmmaker, The New York Times, Senses of Cinema, and Frieze. 

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Ossessione (1943)

Movie poster Ossessione (1943)
In retrospect, the appearance of Visconti’s Ossessione (Obsession, 1943) made it clear that something original was brewing within Italian cinema. Assisted by a number of young Italian intellectuals associated with the review Cinema, Visconti took Cain’s 'hard-boiled' novel (without paying for the rights) and turned the crisp, first-person narrative voice of the American work into a more omniscient, objective camera style, as obsessed with highly formal compositions as Visconti’s protagonists are by their violent passions. Visconti reveals an Italy that includes not only the picturesque and the beautiful but also the tawdry, the ordinary, and the insignificant. Simple gestures, glances, and the absence of any dramatic action characterize the most famous sequence in the film: world-weary Giovanna (Clara Calamai) enters her squalid kitchen, takes a bowl of pasta, and begins to eat, reading the newspaper, but falls asleep from exhaustion. Postwar critics praised neorealist cinema for respecting the duration of real time in such scenes. Equally original in the film is Visconti’s deflation of the 'new' man that Italian Fascism had promised to produce. Even though the film’s protagonist, Gino, is played by Fascist Italy’s matinee idol, Massimo Girotti (1918–2003), his role in the film is resolutely nonheroic, and he has implicit homosexual leanings as well. Even Visconti’s patron and friend Vittorio Mussolini rejected such a portrayal of Italian life. Interestingly enough, Vittorio’s father, Benito Mussolini, had screened the film and did not find it objectionable.

Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy

Roma, città aperta (1945)
Though Obsession announced a new era in Italian filmmaking, at the time very few people saw the film, andfew realized that the aristocratic young director would have such a stellar career. It was the international success of Rossellini’s Roma, città aperta (Rome, Open City, 1945), which so accurately reflected the moral and psychological atmosphere of the immediate postwar period, that alerted the world to the advent of Italian neorealism. With a daring combination of styles and moods, Rossellini captured the tension and the tragedy of Italian life under German occupation and the partisan struggle out of which the new Italian republic was subsequently born. Rome, Open City, however, is far from a programmatic attempt at cinematic realism. Rossellini relied on dramatic actors rather than nonprofessionals. He constructed a number of studio sets (particularly the Gestapo headquarters where the most dramatic scenes in the film take place) and thus did not slavishly follow the neorealist trend of shooting films in the streets of Rome. Moreover, his plot was a melodrama in which good and evil were so clear-cut that few viewers today would identify it as realism. Even its lighting in key sequences (such as the famous torture scene) follows expressionist or American film noir conventions. Rossellini aims to provoke an emotional rather than an intellectual response, with a melodramatic account of Italian resistance to Nazi oppression. In particular, the children present at the end of the film to witness the execution of partisan priest Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi) point to renewed hope for what Rossellini’s protagonists call a new springtime of democracy and freedom in Italy.
Paisà (1946)
Paisà (Paisan, 1946) reflects to a far greater extent the conventions of the newsreel documentary, tracing in six separate episodes the Allied invasion of Italy and its slow process through the peninsula. Far more than Rome, Open CityPaisan seemed to offer an entirely novel approach to film realism; in fact, when future young directors would cite Rossellini as their inspiration, they would almost always refer to Paisan. Its grainy film, the awkward acting of its nonprofessional protagonists, its authoritative voice-over narration, and the immediacy of its subject matter—all features associated with newsreels—do not completely describe the aesthetic quality of the work. Rossellini aims not at a merely realistic documentary of the Allied invasion and Italian suffering. His subject is a deeper philosophical theme, employing a bare minimum of aesthetic resources to follow the encounter of two cultures, resulting in initial misunderstanding but eventual brotherhood.
Germania anno zero (1948)
The third part of Rossellini’s war trilogy, Germania anno zero (Germany Year Zero, 1948), shifts the director’s attention from war-torn Italy to the disastrous effects of the war on Germany. It was shot among the debris of the ruins of Hitler’s Berlin before reconstruction. The director’s analysis of the aftereffects of Hitler’s indoctrination of a young German boy, who eventually commits suicide, reflects Rossellini’s ability to empathize with human suffering, even among ex-Nazis. Immediately noticeable and an aesthetic attributed to neorealism is the film’s atmosphere. Berlin is entirely bombed out with the family even living in a tenement that is bombed out. Long shots are utilized dwarfing the already small child to proportions that are nothing but metaphoric. Filmed in 1947, Rossellini depicted Berlin as it was objectively, never pointing a finger. Instead he presents an objective film that challenges the viewer to reveal their own sentiments toward Nazis and the German people.

Ossessione (1942)

 With 1942’s Ossessione – generally considered to be the first Italian neorealist film – director Luchino Visconti drew heavily on his experiences working with Jean Renoir in the 1930s to craft an earthy, pitch-black story of adultery and murder. Together with left-wing intellectuals Mario Alicata, Gianni Puccini and Giuseppe De Santis, Visconti adapted James M. Cain’s 1934 novel The Postman Always Rings Twice and set it on the flatlands of the Po delta.

The film tells of a drifter, Gino (Massimo Girotti) who arrives at a roadside trattoria owned by Bragana (Juan De Landa) and quickly sets his sights on the latter’s wife Giovanna (Clara Calamai). The lovers hatch a plan to murder Bragana but events spiral out of control. “In terms of both content and style, the film came as a shock to many,” Visconti said in a 1969 interview. “At that moment nobody could address such themes, even if they wanted to.” Visconti goes on to note that the term ‘neorealism’ was first used by editorMario Serandrei after viewing the first few feet of material from Ossessione.

Rome, Open City (1945)

Aldo Fabrizi and Anna Magnani and it was they who helped push the project through a variety of difficulties. Rome had of course been liberated by time shooting began, but conditions remained challenging to say the least, with Rossellini frequently running out of funds and resorting to using pieces of discarded film stock. Its guerrilla-style production notwithstanding, Rome, Open City stands as a crucially important picture in the development of neorealism. It led to several more films that – if not aesthetically homogenous – were united by a way of looking at the world.



Sciuscia (1946)

Sciuscià (1946)
Vittorio De Sica's Sciuscià (Shoeshine, 1946) begins outside Rome, in a kind of idyll of the countryside. Two shoeshine boys set aside what they've earned to buy a horse. Back in the narrow and unforgiving streets of Rome, they're roped into a blackmarket deal that goes sour. Nabbed by the authorities, they're sent to a juvenile prison, their friendship strained nearly to breaking. After an escape, one of them accidentally dies, his death blamed on his friend. De Sica kept his exposition short, detailing the boys' existences through carefully composed scenes such as their neighboring prison cells, each one headed for a different fate. Opening and closing with the horse, De Sica shows the freedom that's denied these two boys.
Compared to the daring experimentalism and use of nonprofessionals in Paisan, De Sica’s neorealist works seem more traditional and closer to Hollywood narratives. Yet, De Sica uses nonprofessionals—particularly children—in both Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thieves even more brilliantly than Rossellini. In contrast to Rossellini’s dramatic editing techniques, which owe something to the lessons Rossellini learned from making documentaries and studying the Russian masters during the Fascist period, De Sica’s camera style favored the kind of deepfocus photography normally associated with Jean Renoir and Orson Welles. Shoeshine offers an ironic commentary on the hopeful ending of Rome, Open City, for its children (unlike Rossellini’s) dramatize the tragedy of childish innocence corrupted by the world of adults, the continuation of a theme De Sica began in one of his best films produced before the end of the war, I bambini ci guardano (The Children Are Watching Us, 1943). The moving performances De Sica obtains from his nonprofessional child actors in Shoeshinearise from what the director called being 'faithful to the character': De Sica believed that ordinary people could do a better job of portraying ordinary people than actors could ever do.

La terra trema: Episodio del mare (1948)

La terra trema: Episodio del mare (1948)
"With his film Ossessione (Obsession, 1943), Luchino Visconti put into practice the realist theories of the Cinema group trained in the Italian professional cinema of the late 1930s and early 1940s. During the war Visconti was an active participant in the Resistance and was eventually captured and imprisoned in Rome by the Nazis, who planned to execute him. He managed to escape from prison just before the American Fifth Army entered Rome in 1944. In 1946, Visconti contributed to the multi-director documentary recreation film about the Resistance, Giorni di gloria (Days of Glory, 1945). After the war, Visconti returned to theater productions in Rome. At the same time, Visconti’s interests continued to focus on two key figures who were to influence his next film, La terra trema: Episodio del mare (The Earth Trembles): novelist Giovanni Verga and the Communist theorist Antonio Gramsci. In 1948, Visconti turned his attention to the problems of Italy’s rural poor with The Earth Trembles, an adaptation of Verga’s novel in the verismo style, I Malavoglia (The House by the Meddlar Tree). Visconti originally intended to make a film trilogy about Sicily based on Verga’s novels but only completed The Earth Trembles, an epic-length film set in the Sicilian coastal village of Aci Trezza about a young fisherman Antonio Malavoglia who tries to raise his family out of poverty by fighting the exploitative owners of the village fishing boats. Antonio decides to take out a loan with the family house as collateral in order to buy his own boat. But the project ends in failure because Antonio is unable to enlist the support of the other fishermen in Aci Trezza.


Visconti’s film is a faithful adaptation of Verga’s novel and is close to Verga’s realistic portrayal of the Sicilian poor, showing their passions, superstitions, and stoic nobility, which often involves a passive acceptance of fate. Visconti, influenced by Verga’s attempt to accurately reproduce the speech of the Sicilian peasants, employed an entirely nonprofessional cast speaking their own Sicilian dialect. Incidentally the language used by actors is different enough from standard Italian that when the film was released in Italy, occasional voice-over commentary by Visconti was added to help non-Sicilians follow the story. Visconti’s film makes extensive use of close-ups with depictions of the day-to-day life of its characters. Visconti’s pacing in the film anticipated the art cinema style with less emphasis on action and more emphasis on character development. The film has many long sequences that may at first viewing seem unnecessary for the development of the plot, but that are actually crucial to Visconti’s study of the daily life in Aci Trezza. The film’s patient depictions of the daily habits of the fishermen and their families recall the detached scientific tone of anthropological or wildlife documentaries. Following the ideas of Communist theorist Antonio Gramsci, Visconti’s film concentrates on a rural rather than an industrial situation, and pays close attention to the regional question by emphasizing Sicilian mannerisms and speech. The Earth Trembles is a convincing portrayal of a social struggle that fails to produce significant change. Nevertheless, at the end of the film it is evident that despite his defeat, the main character, Antonio, is still determined to overcome the exploitation in his village. In practical terms, the film was one of the first box office disappointments of the neorealist period".[2]

Germany Year Zero (1948)

In his short essay on Germany Year Zero, director Gianni Amelio (Blow to the Heart, The Stolen Children) picks up on critic José Luis Guarner’s observation that rather than a war picture, Rossellini’s film is actually closer to horror. Coming after Rome, Open City andPaisà, the film tells of Edmund (Edmund Meschke), a 12-year-old boy having to prematurely shoulder adult responsibility in a devastated post-war Berlin. “The adults around little Edmund aren’t vampires but zombies” writes Amelio, “they move among the rubble of their city without past or future, poised between life and death.”

In the months before he made Germany Year Zero, Rossellini lost his nine-year-old son Romano, a tragedy that undoubtedly contributed to the film’s air of unrelenting pessimism. Its final passage, with an isolated Edmund walking across the skeletal landscape of Berlin, remains one of the most extraordinary sequences ever committed to film.

Ladri di biciclette (1948)

Ladri di biciclette (1948)
De Sica’s faith in nonprofessional actors was more than justified in his masterpiece, Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thieves, 1948), the leading roles of father and son occupied by two nonprofessionals. (David O. Selznick was willing to back the film, but only with Cary Grant as lead, an offer De Sica fortunately had the confidence to refuse.) When the bicycle he needs to do his job is stolen, the young father and son scour Rome to find it; the father is finally driven to steal a ride of his own. The Bicycle Thieves also employs location shooting and the social themes of unemployment and the effects of the war on the postwar economy. The performances of Lamberto Maggiorani as Antonio Ricci, the unemployed father who needs a bicycle in order to make a living hanging posters on city walls, and Enzo Staiola as Bruno, his faithful son, rest upon a plot with a mythic structure - a quest. Their search for a stolen bicycle - its brand is ironically Fides ('Faith') - suggests the film is not merely a political film denouncing a particular socioeconomic system. Social reform may change a world in which the loss of a mere bicycle spells economic disaster, but no amount of social engineering or even revolution will alter solitude, loneliness, and individual alienation.
De Sica orchestrated the film carefully, shooting some scenes with multiple cameras and drawing attention to its existence as fiction, not a documentary. Bazin termed it the "only valid Communist film of the whole past decade" and the film was often seen as simply a criticism of working conditions in Italy at the time, when unemployment stood at 25 percent. But unlike the clearcut moralizing of Rossellini's films, De Sica's works focus on a humanist sense of individual and mass. Bicycle Thieves has a mythic feel, the father ultimately forced into thievery, each moral quandary no sooner solved than De Sica poses yet another, the father sympathetic but flawed.

Miracolo a Milano (1951)

Miracolo a Milano (1951)
De Sica’s Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan, 1951) abandons many of the conventions of neorealist 'realism.' Not only does the film rely upon veterans of the legitimate theater for its cast, but De Sica also employs many special effects not generally associated with neorealism’s pseudodocumentary style: superimposed images for magical effects, process shots, reverse action, surrealistic sets, the abandonment of normal notions of chronological time, and the rejection of the usual cause-and-effect relationships typical of the 'real' world. In spite of the fact that Zavattini, De Sica’s scriptwriter, once made a famous pronouncement that "the true function of the cinema is not to tell fables" (a view that became associated with Italian neorealism and that tended to obscure the very real fables that this cinema invented), Miracle in Milan is, in fact, a fable that begins with the traditional opening line, "Once upon a time . . ." and revolves around a comic parable about the rich and the poor. The result is a parody of Marxist concepts of class struggle. De Sica and Zavattini show us poor people who are just as selfish, egotistical, and uncaring as some wealthy members of society once the poor gain power, money, and influence. At the conclusion of the film, the poor mount their broomsticks and fly off over the Cathedral of Milan in search of a place where justice prevails and common humanity is a way of life. Miracle in Milan stretches the notion of what constitutes a neorealist film to the very limits.

Bellissima (1951)

Bellissima (1951)
Italian audiences hardly embraced these new films. To be shown their country in such stark terms made the majority very unhappy. It even became part of the law: the Andreotti Law (1949), named for its author Giullio Andreotti, offered subsidies for those who followed the neo-realist style in a manner "suitable... to the best interests of Italy," but with the proviso that they avoid the blemishes on Italian life. Legislation had little immediate effect on what was made, though the stories began to reflect the scramble for work and stability that defined this period. Visconti's terrific Bellissima (1951) centers on a daughter and fanatic stage-mamma, the inimitable Magnani, eager to get her modestly talented daughter a spot in a movie. To her husband's dismay, she squeezes every extra penny into lessons and cosmetic improvements for the little girl. Ultimately, the mother all but puts herself on the market to get the recognition she's convinced will make life worth living. Set in a working-class Roman neighborhood,Bellissima gives rare insight into how provincial big-city life could be, each neighborhood a virtual small town, the neighbors sometimes helpful, often petty and jealous of any advantage. Though not traditionally considered a neo-realist film, Bellissimadid focus on people's lives in the wake of war, the sense of wanting to better oneself and the struggle to find a way out of the grind of poverty. It becomes yet more poignant in this context.

Umberto D. (1952)

Umberto D. (1952)
The sense of Rome as a small town is especially acute in Umberto D. (1952), which was De Sica's favorite film and is in many ways the masterpiece of neo-realism, an overall superb piece of work. The crisis-filled days of a pensioner, Umberto Domenico Ferrari (Carlo Battisti), and the complications of his relationship with his dog and a young maid in his apartment building become a study in the difficult drama that constitutes an ordinary life. As played by a dignified nonprofessional - a professor, who, in the event, was often subsequently taken for his character on the street - Umberto D. is stodgy, fussy, irritating and curiously sympathetic. Unlike other films of the era, this was shot nearly entirely in the Cinécitta studios. The indignities of the family-less and indigent old-age are laid out with sensitivity but not sentimentality. Umberto is vulnerable and all but invisible, barely distinguishing himself in a crowd of protesting pensioners, desperately trying to maintain his independence and self-respect. There is no real plot other than the minuscule and life-shaping crises of late-life impoverishment. Even the end strikes a melancholy note of ambiguity.

La strada (1954)

Within a few years of moving to Rome from his native Rimini, Fellini met Roberto Rossellini, who invited him to collaborate on the screenplay for Rome, Open City. Fellini then served as Rossellini’s assistant director on Paisà a year later. “It was a very important experience for me”, he said in an interview with Costanzo Costantini, “Rossellini was the originator of open-air cinema, working in the midst of ordinary people in the most unpredictable circumstances. It was by accompanying him as he shot Paisà that I discovered Italy. From him I derived the conception of film as a journey, adventure, odyssey.”

When Fellini became a director in his own right in the early 1950s, his work clearly showed links with (Rossellinian) neorealism while possessing an oneiric quality all of his own. In 1954’s La strada, Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina plays Gelsomina, a young woman whose impoverished mother sells her to travelling circus strongman Zampanò (Anthony Quinn). An intensely bittersweet fable, La strada proved to be Fellini’s international breakthrough, winning the inaugural Academy Award for best foreign film in 1956.

MAJOR DIRECTORS

Vittorio De Sica (1901-1974)

The seminal figure of the neorealism movement, Vittorio De Sica was born in Sora, Italy, on July 7, 1901. Raised in Naples, he began working as an office clerk at a young age in order to help support his impoverished family. He became fascinated by acting while still a youth, and made his screen debut in 1917's The Clemenceau Affair at the age of just 16. In 1923, De Sica joined Tatiana Pavlova's famed stage company, and by the end of the decade his dashing good looks had made him one of the Italian theater's most prominent matinee idols. With 1932's La Vecchia Signora, he made his sound-era film debut and went on to become an even bigger star in the cinema, appearing primarily in light romantic comedies throughout the decade.
Vittorio De Sica
In 1939, De Sica graduated to the director's chair with Rose Scarlatte. Over the next two years he helmed three more features (1940's Maddalena... zero in condotta along with 1941's Teresa Venerdi and Un garibaldino al convento, respectively), but his work lacked distinction until he, along with fellow Italian filmmakers Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti, began exploring the possibilities of making more humanistic movies documenting the harsh realities facing their countrymen as a result of World War II. With 1942's I bambini ci guardano, De Sica revolutionized the Italian film industry, crafting a poignant, heartfelt portrait of a downtrodden culture free of the conventions of Hollywood production. Working with screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, who remained a central figure in the majority of his greatest work, De Sica employed non-professional actors and filmed not in studios but on the streets of Rome, all to flesh out the working-class drama of Zavattini's script.
The war prevented De Sica from directing another film for four years, but finally in 1946 he resurfaced with the brilliant Sciuscià. His greatest film, Ladri di biciclette, followed in 1948; a virtual textbook of neorealism in action, it featured all of the aesthetic's key tenets — gritty production, almost improvisational acting, and a lean emotional compression — and it even added authentic documentary footage into the narrative to establish a greater sense of truth. (Like SciusciaLadri di biciclette won a special Academy Award; not until several years later was the Oscar category for Best Foreign Language Film officially established.) Three years later, De Sica returned with Miracolo a Milano. Its follow-up, 1952's Umberto D., clearly ranked among his finest work, but when it proved to be a box-office disaster, he returned to the lighter material of his formative years with Villa Borghese (1953).
The 1956 Il tetto marked something of a return to neorealist form, but when it too failed commercially, De Sica's career as a filmmaker was critically damaged. Unable to secure financing for subsequent projects, he turned his full focus to acting, starring in a string of pictures including 1957's A Farewell to Arms (for which he earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor) and 1957's Souvenir d'Italie (It Happened in Rome). Over the course of his long career, he appeared in over 150 features. Finally, in 1960, De Sica returned to directing with La Ciociara, leading his star Sophia Loren to an Academy Award. The 1963 Ieri, oggi, domani also won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, but in many regards De Sica's reign as one of the world's great directors was over. Features like 1966's Caccia alla volpe, 1967's Sette volte donna, and 1970'sGirasoli were lightweight at best, and although 1971's Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini won yet another Academy Award, it bore little relation to his neorealist classics. De Sica died in Paris on November 13, 1974, following complications from surgery.

Roberto Rossellini (1906-1977)

Roberto Rossellini (1906-1977)
The son of a wealthy Roman architect, writer/director Roberto Rossellini was more technically than artistically inclined when he began making amateur films as a teenager. From his first project in 1934, Rossellini was far more fascinated with the mechanical intricacies of dubbing, editing, and photography than with such things as plots and performers. His 1938 short subject Prelude a l'apres-midi d'une faune, was considered worthwhile enough by some film-industry insiders to warrant a theatrical release; unfortunately, it was banned by Italy's censorship bureau on the grounds of indecency. Even so, when Vittorio Mussolini - the dictator's movie-executive son (and a family friend) - invited young Rossellini to become a professional filmmaker, the 22-year-old dilettante jumped at the chance. Assigned to direct a documentary about an Italian hospital ship, he expanded the project into a fictional feature, La nave bianca, completed in 1940 and released the following year.
During the war, Rossellini found himself in the delicate position of acting as technical director for fascist-commissioned films, all the while secretly shooting documentary footage of anti-Mussolini resistance fighters. In 1943, he began work on what many consider the first neorealist film, Desiderio, in which, utilizing a hand-held camera, Rossellini attempted to approach his subject matter as a spectator rather than director. Unfortunately, he was forced to drop the project, which would be completed by other, more conventional hands three years later. Nonetheless, his brush with cinematic naturalism had left an impression, and, in 1945, he gained international fame with his stark, neorealist feature Roma, città aperta (Roma, Open City). This film so impressed Hollywood producer David O. Selznick that he invited Rossellini to come to America to direct Selznick's next Ingrid Bergman vehicle. Bergman, herself, wrote an affectionate fan letter to the director, never dreaming what effect this simple gesture of courtesy would have on her life. Resisting the temptation to pack up for America, Rossellini remained in Italy to co-write and direct Paisà (1946) and Germania anno zero (1947), two of the most influential works of their time. He then switched focus from the devastations of the postwar era to the earthy charms of his lover Anna Magnani in L'amore (1948). He finally met Bergman the following year, and their mutual admiration quickly deepened into love. Leaving their respective spouses, Rossellini and Bergman married in 1950, sparking an international scandal that resulted in fervent condemnations from politicians and clergymen alike. From 1949 through 1953, Bergman worked for no other director but Rossellini; the collaboration yielded one truly worthwhile film, Stromboli (1950), and a series of self-indulgent, critical, and financial disasters.
Although the Bergman-Rossellini liaison produced three children (including current film star Isabella Rossellini), their relationship quickly soured. While preparing a multi-part TV documentary on India in 1957, Rossellini became involved with Indian screenwriter Somali Das Gupta, whose subsequent pregnancy effectively ended his marriage to Bergman and nearly destroyed his film career. (Rossellini's later marriage to Gupta would also end in divorce.) In 1959, Rossellini restored his tattered reputation with his best film in years, Il generale Della Rovere, which starred fellow director Vittorio de Sica. After completing Vanina Vanini in 1960, Rossellini devoted his energies almost exclusively to TV films, turning out several respectful but non-reverential biographies of such historical figures as Socrates, St. Augustine, and King Louis XIV; three of these films would be afforded theatrical release. In his last movie, Il messia (1978), the director once more stirred up controversy, though '70s filmgoers of were less-easily outraged than those of 1950. Rossellini died in 1977. His autobiography, My Method: Writings and Interviews, was published posthumously in 1993.

Luchino Visconti (1906-1976)

One of seven children, Visconti was born in Milan into a noble and wealthy family, one of the region's richest. His father Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone was the Duke of Grazzano. In his early years he was exposed to art, music and theatre, and met the composer Giacomo Puccini, the conductor Arturo Toscanini, and the writer Gabriele d'Annunzio. During World War II Visconti joined the Italian Communist Party.
Luchino Visconti (1906-1976)
Visconti made no secret of his homosexuality. His last partner was the Austrian actor Helmut Berger, who played Martin in Visconti's film La caduta degli dei (The Damned). Berger also appeared in Visconti's Ludwig in 1972 and Gruppo di famiglia in un interno (Conversation Piece) in 1974 along with Burt Lancaster. Other lovers included Franco Zeffirelli, who also worked as part of the crew (i.e. production design, assistant director, etc.) in a number of Visconti's films and theatrical productions.
He began his filmmaking career as an assistant director on Jean Renoir's Toni (1935) and Une partie de campagne (1936), thanks to the intercession of their common friend, Coco Chanel. After a short tour of the United States, where he visited Hollywood, he returned to Italy to be Renoir's assistant again, this time for La Tosca (1941), a production that was interrupted and later completed by German director Karl Koch because of World War II. Together with Roberto Rossellini, Visconti joined the salotto of Vittorio Mussolini (the son of Benito, who was then the national arbitrator for cinema and other arts. Here he presumably also met Federico Fellini. With Gianni Puccini, Antonio Pietrangeli and Giuseppe De Santis, he wrote the screenplay for his first film as director: Ossessione (Obsession, 1943), the first neorealist movie and an unofficial adaptation of the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice.
In 1948, he wrote and directed La terra trema (The Earth Trembles), based on the novel I Malavoglia by Giovanni Verga. In the book by Silvia Iannello Le immagini e le parole dei Malavoglia, the author selects some passages of the Verga novel, adds original comments and Acitrezza's photographic images, and devotes a chapter to the origins, remarks and frames taken from the movie.
Visconti continued working throughout the 1950s, although he veered away from the neorealist path with his 1954 film, Senso, shot in color. Based on the novella by Camillo Boito, it is set in Austrian-occupied Venice in 1866. In this film, Visconti combines realism and romanticism as a way to break away from neorealism. However, as one biographer notes, "Visconti without neorealism is like Lang without expressionism and Eisenstein without formalism." He describes the film as the 'most Viscontian' of all Visconti's films. Visconti returned to neorealism once more with Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers, 1960), the story of southern Italians who migrate to Milan hoping to find financial stability.
Throughout the 1960s, Visconti's films became more personal. Il gattopardo (The Leopard, 1963), based on Lampedusa's novel of the same name about the decline of the Sicilian aristocracy at the time of the Risorgimento. It starred American actor Burt Lancaster in the role of Prince Don Fabrizio. This film was distributed in America and England by Twentieth-Century Fox, which deleted important scenes. Visconti repudiated the Twentieth-Century Fox version.
It was not until La caduta degli dei that Visconti received a nomination for an Academy Award, for Best Screenplay. The film, one of Visconti's best-known works, concerns a German industrialist's family which slowly begins to disintegrate during World War II. Its decadence and lavish beauty are characteristic of Visconti's aesthetic. Visconti's final film was L'innocente (The Innocent, 1976), in which he returns to his recurring interest in infidelity and betrayal.
Visconti was also a celebrated theatre and opera director. During the years 1946-1960 he directed many performances of the Rina Morelli-Paolo Stoppa Company with actor Vittorio Gassman as well as many celebrated productions of operas. Visconti's love of opera is evident in the 1954Senso, where the beginning of the film shows scenes from the fourth act of Il trovatore, which were filmed at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. Beginning when he directed a production at Milan's Teatro alla Scala of La vestale in December 1954, his career included a famous revival of La traviata at La Scala in 1955 with Maria Callas and an equally famous Anna Bolena (also at La Scala) in 1957 with Callas. A significant 1958 Royal Opera House (London) production of Verdi's five-act Italian version of Don Carlos (with Jon Vickers) followed, along with a Macbeth in Spoleto in 1958 and a famous black-and-white Il trovatore with scenery and costumes by Filippo Sanjust at Covent Garden in 1964. In 1966 Visconti's lusciousFalstaff for the Vienna State Opera conducted by Leonard Bernstein was critically acclaimed. On the other hand, his austere 1969 Simon Boccanegra with the singers clothed in geometrical costumes provoked controversy.

Cesare Zavattini (1902-1989)

Cesare Zavattini (1902-1989)
Italian journalist and writer of screenplays for Italian neorealist cinema, Cesare Zavattini is known especially for his collaborations with director Vittorio De Sica. After completing a law degree at the University of Parma, Zavattini wrote two successful novels - Parliamo tanto di me (Let’s Talk A Lot About Me, 1931) and Il poveri sono matti (The Poor Are Crazy, 1937) - before writing the script for Mario Camerini’s classic social satire, Darò un milione (I’ll Give a Million, 1937), starring Vittorio De Sica. In his lifetime, Zavattini completed 126 screenplays, 26 of which were for De Sica as director or actor. He also provided screenplays for such figures as Alessandro Blasetti, Giuseppe De Santis, Luchino Visconti, and Alberto Lattuada, but his work with De Sica established Zavattini as the leading exponent of Italian neorealism in the decade immediately following the end of World War II. But it was the four neorealist classics created by the two friends that made film history:Sciuscià (Shoeshine, 1946), an account of the American occupation that earned the first award for foreign films bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thieves, 1948), a tale of postwar unemployment that received an Oscar for Best Foreign Film; Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan, 1951), a fantastic parable about the class struggle in a fairy-tale Milan; and Umberto D. (1952), a heart-rending tragedy about a lonely pensioner and his dog. Zavattini became the outstanding spokesman for neorealism, advocating the use of nonprofessional actors, a documentary style, authentic locations as opposed to studio shooting, and a rejection of Hollywood studio conventions, including the use of dramatic or intrusive editing. He wrote contemporary, simple stories about common people. In particular, he felt that everyday events provided as much drama as any Hollywood script could produce by rhetorical means or that any special effects and dramatic editing might create. Nevertheless, after neorealist cinema evolved in the late 1950s, Zavattini wrote screenplays for De Sica that enjoyed great commercial success: Ieri, oggi, domani (Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. 1963), a social satire that garnered an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and featured a legendary striptease for Marcello Mastroianni by Sophia Loren; La Ciociara (Two Women, 1960), an adaptation of an Alberto Moravia novel about the horrible effects of war, which won Loren an Oscar for Best Actress; and Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, 1970), the narration of the destruction of the Jewish community in Ferrara before World War II, which won De Sica his fourth Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Federico Fellini (1920-1993)

One of the most visionary figures to emerge from the fertile motion picture community of postwar-era Italy, Federico Fellini brought a new level of autobiographical intensity to his craft; more than any other filmmaker of his era, he transformed the realities of his life into the surrealism of his art. Though originally a product of the neorealist school, the eccentricity of Fellini's characterizations and his absurdist sense of comedy set him squarely apart from contemporaries like Vittorio De Sica or Roberto Rossellini, and at the peak of his career his work adopted a distinctively poetic, flamboyant, and influential style so unique that only the term 'Felliniesque' could accurately describe it.
Federico Fellini (1920-1993)
Born in Rimini, Italy, on January 20, 1920, Fellini's first passion was the theater, and at the age of 12 he briefly ran away from home to join the circus, later entering college solely to avoid being drafted. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, he wrote and acted with his friend Aldo Fabrizi, and during wartime he composed radio sketches for the program Cico e Pallina, meeting his future wife, actress Giulietta Masina. Additionally, Fellini worked as an artist on fumetti (Italy's illustrated magazines), and occasionally even made his living as a caricaturist at Roman restaurants. He only entered film with the aid of Fabrizi, who recruited Fellini to continue supplying stories and ideas for his performances; between 1939 and 1944, the two men worked in tandem on a number of largely forgotten comedies, among them Quarta pagina, and Campo de' fiori.
The pivotal moment in Fellini's early career came in the days following the Allied Forces' 1945 liberation of Italy, when he and Fabrizi both began working with Roberto Rossellini, a young, largely unknown filmmaker with only a handful of directorial credits under his belt. Rossellini's initial plan was to film a fictionalized account of the Germans' shooting of a local priest. With Fellini on board as a screenwriter, however, the film eventually grew to become Roma, Città aperta, a landmark of Italian neorealism and one of the most widely acclaimed pictures of its era. For the follow-up, 1946's Paisà, Fellini graduated to the position of assistant director, later collaborating on films by Pietro Germi (including In nome della legge and Il cammino della speranza) and Alberto Lattuda (Il delitto di Giovanni Episcopo and Il mulino del Po), among others.
In 1948, Fellini completed the screenplay for Il miracolo, the second and longer section of Rossellini's two-part effort L'amore. Here Fellini's utterly original worldview first began to truly take shape in the form of archetypal characters (a simple-minded peasant girl and her male counterpart, a kind of holy simpleton), recurring motifs (show business, parties, the sea), and an ambiguous relationship with religion and spirituality, a relationship further explored in his script for Rossellini's 1949 Francesco, giullare di Dio, adapted from The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi. In 1950, Fellini made his first attempt at directing one of his own screenplays (albeit with the technical guidance of Alberto Lattuda); the result wasLuci del varietà, which further developed his fusion of neorealism with the atmosphere of surrealism.
After two more screenplays — 1951's La città si difende and 1952's Il brigante di Tacca del Lupo, both directed by Pietro Germi - Fellini again took over the directorial reins for the romantic satire Lo sceicco bianco . The film marked his first work with composer Nino Rota, who emerged among the key contributors to his work throughout the remainder of his career. Fellini's initial masterpiece, I vitteloni, followed in 1953. The first of his features to receive international distribution, it later won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, the first of so many similar honors that eventually an entire room in his house was devoted solely to housing his awards. The brilliant La strada followed in 1954, also garnering the Silver Lion as well as the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Picture and some 50 other worldwide prizes and citations. The picture's success brought his singular combination of the sublime and the grotesque to international fame, launching wife and star Masina to global stardom as well.
Federico Fellini (1920-1993)
After helming 1955's Il bidone, Fellini and a group of screenwriters (including a young Pier Paolo Pasolini) began work on 1956's Le notti di Cabiria; the completed film won a second Academy Award. Upon writing the screenplay for Viaggio con Anita, a tale based on the death of his father which remained unfilmed before Mario Monicelli agreed to direct it in 1979, Fellini mounted 1959's La dolce vita, perhaps his most well-known film. The first of his pictures to star actor Marcello Mastroianni, who would become Fellini's cinematic alter ego over the course of several subsequent collaborations, its portrait of sex and death in Rome's high society created a tremendous scandal at its Milan premiere, where the audience booed, insulted, and spat on the director. Regardless, La dolce vita won the Palm d'Or at the annual Cannes Film Festival, and remains a landmark in cinematic history.
The success afforded to the film left Fellini in a state of confusion as he considered his next project. Ultimately, his writer's block became the subject of perhaps his greatest film, 1962's 8 1/2, the story of a filmmaker (Mastroianni) attempting to mount a movie which remains unmade. Again, the international acclaim was virtually unanimous, with yet another Oscar forthcoming, and after winning the Great Prize at the Moscow Film Festival, he never again entered festival competition. With 1965's Giulietta degli spiriti, Fellini worked for the first time in color. After experimenting with LSD under the supervision of doctors, he began scripting Il Viaggio di G. Mastorna, inspired by the death of his friend Ernest Bernhard. Over a year of pre-production followed, hampered by difficulties with producers, actors, and even a jury trial. Finally on April 10th, 1967, Fellini suffered a nervous breakdown, resulting in a month-long nursing home stay. Ultimately, he gave up on ever bringing Il Viaggio di G. Mastorna to the screen, and his new producer, Alberto Grimaldi, was forced to buy out former producer Dino De Laurentis for close to half a billion liras.
As the decade drew to a close, Fellini returned to work with a vengeance, first resurfacing with Toby Dammitt, a short feature for the collaborative film Tre passi nel delirio. Turning to television, he helmed Fellini: A Director's Notebook, a one-hour special for the NBC network, followed by the feature effort Fellini - Satyricon, an erotic adaptation of Petronius' text. I clowns, directed for RAI (an Italian state-TV broadcasting company), followed in 1970, with Roma bowing in 1972. Amarcord, a childhood reminiscence, won a fourth Academy Award in 1974, but as criticism that his work was becoming far too eccentric and self-indulgent continued to mount, it proved to be his final international success. After acting in Paul Mazursky's Alex in Wonderland and Ettore Scola's C'eravamo Tanto Amati, he shot 1976's Il Casanova di Federico Fellini, which found favor only in Japan.
After both 1979's Prova d'orchestra and 1980's La città delle donne also proved unsuccessful, Fellini turned to publishing with Fare un Film, an anthology of notes about his life and work. E la nave va and Ginger e Fred followed in 1983 and 1986 respectively, but by the time of 1987's L'Intervista, he was facing considerable difficulty finding financing for his projects; consequently, 1989's La voce della luna was his last completed film. In the early years of the 1990s, Fellini helmed a handful of television commercials, and in 1993 he won his fifth Academy Award for a lifetime of service to the film industry. On the day after his fiftieth wedding anniversary, Federico Fellini suffered a massive stroke and lapsed into a coma; he never recovered, and died on October 31, 1993. He was 73 years old.

Alberto Lattuada (1913-2005)

Alberto Lattuada (1913-2005)
Italian writer/director Alberto Lattuada is the son of famed composer Felice Lattuada, who scored several of Lattuada's films. After studying to be an architect at the Berchet School in Milan, Lattuada supplemented his income as a newspaper and magazine writer. He entered the Italian film industry in 1933 as a set decorator, graduating to assistant in charge of color in 1935. Five years later, he directed his first film. With Luigi Comencini, Lattuada founded Italy's first film archive, Cinetica Italiana, in 1941; that same year he published a popular coffee-table volume, The Photographic Atlas. Stepping up his directing activities in the postwar years, Lattuada specialized in stylish costume pictures, often adapted from famous novels. His ventures into neorealism - Il bandito (Bandit, 1946), Anna (1951) - tended to be slicker and more professional-looking than the similar efforts of his contemporaries. He gave the career of Federico Fellini a boost in 1950, when he and Fellini co-directed the well-received Luci del varietà (Variety Lights) (the film's budget was provided up by a corporation formed by Lattuada, Fellini and their actress wives). The best of Lattuada's subsequent films include Il cappotto (The Overcoat, 1953) and Fräulein Doktor (1967). He did a great deal of TV work in the 1970s and 1980s, notably the 1985 U.S.-Italian miniseries Christopher Columbus. From 1970 onward, Lattuada kept busy outside the movie industry as an opera director. Alberto Lattuada was once married to actress Carla Del Poggio.

Ermanno Olmi (1931 - )

Ermanno Olmi (1931 - )
Though not among Italy's most internationally renowned filmmakers, Ermanno Olmi ranks as one of his country's finest. He is known for making realistic films about the lives of average people that are infused with an almost austere subtlety and rare ambiguity that is sympathetic yet not overly sentimental. A native of Bergamo, Italy, he was the son of peasant factory workers. Following his father's death during WWII, Olmi and his mother supported the family working in the Edison-Volta electric plant where Olmi worked as a clerk. While there, he became involved in company-sponsored filmmaking and theatrical projects. Most of the films he made for the company had industrial themes. Eventually, he came to head the company film department and over the next seven years made many documentaries, notably his last Edison-Volta film, Il tempo si è fermato (Time Stood Still), in 1959. It was with this film, a chronicle of the relationship that gradually developed between an elderly nightwatchman and his assistant while stationed at the construction site of an Alpine dam, that evidenced the sensitivity that would characterize Olmi's later works. The success of the film led Olmi to become a feature filmmaker. To that end, he traveled to Milan and co-founded the Twenty-Four Horses, an independent film co-op where he made his semi-autobiographical feature-film debut with Il posto in 1961. Both this and his subsequent effort, I fidanzati (The Fiancés) (1963), quickly earned him a good reputation and led him to make his one mainstream film, E venne un uomo (And There Came a Man, 1965), an epic biography of Pope John XXIII. Unfortunately, this film — the only one in which he did not use nonprofessional actors — was a box-office flop and after making one more feature, Olmi became a television director. He did not make another feature until 1978. The film was L'albero degli zoccoli (The Tree of Wooden Clogs), a complex interweaving of the lives of five peasant families struggling to survive, and is considered Olmi's finest work.

Pietro Germi (1914-1974)

Pietro Germi (1914-1974)
Pietro Germi was an Italian actor, screenwriter, and director. Germi was born in Genoa, Liguria, to a lower-middle class family. He was a messenger and briefly attended nautical school before before entering Rome'sCentro Sperimentale di Cinematographia. There he studied acting and directing, supporting himself with a number of bottom-level movie industry jobs as an extra, bit actor, assistant director, and, on occasion, writer. In 1946, he directed his first film, Il testimone, which he also co-scripted. His early work, Il cammino della speranza (The Road to Hope, 1950), In nome della legge (In the Name of the Law, 1949), Il brigante di Tacca del Lupo (The Bandit of Tacca Del Lupo, 1957) were very much in the Italian neorealist style; many were social dramas that dealt with contemporary issues pertaining to people of Sicilian heritage. Almost immediately tagged as a neorealist, Germi actually had more in common stylistically and thematically with American director John Ford (whom he deeply admired) than his Italian contemporaries. By the mid-1950s, Germi had pretty much abandoned drama in favor of satirical comedy, often utilizing the poverty-stricken regions of Sicily as his backdrop. Germi's Divorzio all'italiana (Divorce Italian Style, 1961) was a huge worldwide box-office hit which earned him an Oscar for Best Screenplay (in collaboration with Alfredo Giannetti and Ennio de Concini). In 1965, he was co-recipient of the Cannes festival Best Picture award forSignore e signori, released in the U.S. as The Birds, the Bees and the Italians. He also won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Signore e signori.
Germi collaborated on the scripts for all the films he directed and appeared as an actor in a few of them. Pietro Germi's last completed film wasAlfredo, Alfredo (1972); he was forced to pull out of his final project, Amici Miei (1975), suffering from the acute hepatitis that would ultimately kill him.

Luigi Zampa (1905-1991)

Luigi Zampa (1905-1991)
Italian screenwriter/director Luigi Zampa began as a student of architecture and engineering, but opted instead for a theatrical career as a playwright. At 31, Zampa became one of the first students to enroll at the pioneering Italian film school Centro Sperimante di Cinematografia. From 1938 to 1941, he served his apprenticeship as an assistant director and script collaborator. He directed his first feature in 1941, then spent the next few years specializing in the frivolous 'white telephone' romantic comedies so beloved of filmgoers of the period. From 1944 to 1945, he was assigned to the film unit of the Italian army. Apparently profoundly affected by this experience, he forsook escapism after the war and became one of the vanguards of the neorealist movement. Zampa was instrumental in building Anna Magnani into stardom, and later performed the same magic for Gina Lollobrigida. A trenchant satirist, Zampa thrived on sticking it to government bureaucracy and bourgeois pretentiousness: Many of his most successful films inside to Commedia all'italiana genre, featured Alberto Sordi as a mildly corrupt government official or blue-collar laborer. For reasons unknown, Luigi Zampa seemed to lose his touch in the late '50s; his final film efforts were still entertaining, but far more conformist and conventional than such vintage Zampa efforts as Vivere in pace (To Live in Peace, 1946) and Processo alla città (City on Trial, 1952).

Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007)

Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni redefined the concept of narrative cinema, challenging the accepted notions at the heart of storytelling, realism, drama, and the world at large; his films — a seminal body of enigmatic and intricate mood pieces — rejected action in favor of contemplation, championing image and design over character and story. Haunted by a sense of instability and impermanence, his work defined a cinema of possibilities, a shifting landscape of thoughts and ideas devoid of resolution; in Antonioni's world, riddles were not answered, but simply evaporated into other riddles.
Antonioni was born on September 29, 1912, in Ferrara, Italy; as a child, his interests included painting and building architectural models (an interest which continued in the design and decor of his films). After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Bologna, where he initially studied classics but later emerged with a degree in economics. While he was at college, his interest in the theater blossomed, and he also began writing short fiction and film reviews for a local newspaper, Il Corriere Padano, often running afoul of the motion-picture community for his savage attacks on the mainstream Italian comedies of the 1930s. Antonioni's initial attempt at filmmaking was a documentary profiling a nearby insane asylum; the project was aborted because the inmates would lapse into fits of panic each time the lights of the camera were turned on.
Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007)
By 1939, Antonioni had chosen the cinema as his life's work, and he soon relocated to Rome, where he accepted a position at Cinema, the official Fascist film magazine edited by Mussolini's son, Vittorio. After being dismissed over a political disagreement, Antonioni enrolled at the Centre Sperimentale to study film technique. By age 30, he was working professionally in the film industry; his first screenplay went unproduced, but he was soon hired to co-write Roberto Rossellini's Un pilota ritorna, followed by a stint as the assistant director to Enrico Fulchignoni on I due Foscari. In 1942, Antonioni traveled to France to work with Marcel Carné on Les visiteurs du soir. Antonioni was soon called back to Italy for military service, where he managed to wrangle funding from the Luce Institute forGente del Po, a documentary portrait of the impoverished lives of the fishermen along the Po river.
The Allied invasion of Italy brought film production there to an end for some time, forcing Antonioni to earn his living as a book translator; he also wrote prolifically for a number of magazines, including Film Rivista and Film d'Oggi. Additionally, he was commissioned by Luchino Visconti to write a pair of screenplays, Furore and The Trial of Maria Tarnowska, neither of which was ever produced. Finally, in 1948, Antonioni was able to return behind the camera, and over the course of the next two years he directed no less than six documentary shorts; among them,Nettezza urbanaL'amorosa menzogna, and Superstizione hinted most strongly at the work still to come, their style of photography Spartan and unadorned, forgoing strong contrasts to focus on the middle range of gray tones.
After completing the short subject La villa dei mostri, Antonioni was able to secure financing for his 1950 feature debut, Cronaca di un amore. Here he turned away from the neorealism so much in vogue, employing professional actors and focusing on interpersonal relationships instead of social criticism. More importantly, the film further developed his increasingly unique visual aesthetic, honing a rigorously disciplined brand of 'anti-cinema,' favoring long, deep-focus shots in opposition not only to the gritty, newsreel-like feel of the neorealists but even the montage dynamic perfected by Sergei Eisenstein. With Cronaca di un amore, Antonioni first moved into a realm of film previously explored only by the likes of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson, a form of interior cinema concerned far less with the body than with the soul, and less by the actual arc of his plot than by the characters' reactions to it. Rather inexplicably, Cronaca di un amore made next to no impact upon its original release, and Antonioni spent the remainder of the decade in relative obscurity.
In 1952, he collaborated with Federico Fellini on the script to Lo sceicco bianco, followed by a directing assignment helming an episode of the triptych I vinti. Antonioni did not mount another feature-length project until 1953 with La signora senza camelie, an essay on the world of show business which further developed the formula of internalized action. Yet again, the film received virtually no notice, and was barely even screened outside of Italy; Antonioni spent the next several years in relative seclusion, directing only a segment of L'amore in città as well as Uomini in piú, a documentary commissioned by an international committee studying overpopulation.
Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007)
Finally, in 1955 he was able to mount his third feature, Le amiche. Though beset by troubles from the outset — financing even ran out halfway through the production, suspending the shooting schedule for several months — the completed film was Antonioni's most mature to date. Based loosely on the Cesare Pavese novella Tra donne sole, it further rejected all notions of traditional narrative and literary value, even garnering some degree of attention from the international cinema community. Il grido followed in 1957, and in 1958 Antonioni resurfaced with a pair of films, La tempesta and Nel segno di Roma. The period was one largely defined by artistic and commercial disappointment, and of the three films, the director allowed his name to remain on Il grido alone.
In 1960, Antonioni's masterpiece L'avventura premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. His most extreme work to date, as a study of alienation among the bourgeoisie, it progressed at a snail's pace, its long, beautiful shots telling virtually no story whatsoever. Even the basic plot — the search for a missing woman — willfully disintegrated at the end, prompting a near-riot among Cannes viewers. Ultimately, L'avventura won the festival's Grand Jury Prize, becoming a phenomenal success across the globe. Antonioni became a major figure in international cinema virtually overnight, and his lead actress, Monica Vitti — a luminous cipher perfectly suited to her director's austere formalism — emerged as a huge star.
La notte — the second film in the trilogy begun with L'avventura — appeared in 1961, exploring the existential ground of alienation, non-communication, and meaninglessness. A transitional work also starring Vitti as well as Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, La notteexperimented more freely with editing techniques, relying less on the long, expansive takes which defined Antonioni's earlier work. The 1962 release L'eclisse reduced its plot structure to the barest minimum, replacing narrative with an acute psychological portrait of a woman (Vitti) who drifts from one romantic liaison into another. Il deserto rosso, his fourth and final film starring Vitti — as well as his first color feature — followed in 1964.
In 1966, Antonioni went to England to shoot Blow-Up, his most commercially successful effort. Set in the 'Swinging London' scene of the mid-'60s, it starred David Hemmings as a fashion photographer who accidentally photographs a murder. The wide popularity of Blow-Up brought Antonioni to America, where in 1970 he made his lone U.S. feature, Zabriskie PointChung Kuo/Cina, a four-hour television documentary filmed in China and subsequently denounced by the nation's government, followed in 1972. Professione: reporter (The Passenger), a thriller shot in North Africa starring Jack Nicholson, appeared three years later, while Il mistero di Oberwald did not bow until 1980.
With 1982's Identificazione di una donna, Antonioni's career largely ground to a halt; a savage early review by New York Times critic Vincent Canby prompted the film's U.S. distributor to drop the film, and due to the loss of potential revenue, Antonioni was unable to realize several planned projects. A 1985 stroke left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak, but a decade later Antonioni returned to filmmaking with PAl di là delle nuvole (Beyond the Clouds), a feature co-directed by Wim Wenders.
It would be nearly another ten years before Antonioni stepped behind the camera again, but in 2004, at the age of 91, he involved himself with two new projects. The first film, Lo sguardo di Michelangelo was a 35-minute documentary, while Eros featured multiple segments directed by such auteurs as Antonioni, Steven Soderbergh, and Wong Kar-Wai. In 1995, Antonioni received an honorary Lifetime Achievement Academy Award. He passed away at the age of 94 on July 30, 2007, in Rome.