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The Must-Sees of Neorealist Cinema
A Women and Neorealism curated selection of important neorealist films one should watch to gain a fuller understanding of the genre.
Blogger’s Note: If you intend on making a marathon out of these, you are going to need one huge box of tissues.
In the previous post, I discussed the vignette in Paisan where the soldier reminisces of the girls of Rome in the past, who were “all happy and laughing and fresh, full of color, beautiful,” who he now believes have become prostitutes (Bondanella 74). In these films, expressions of female sexuality are attributed to deviant behavior, either exhibited by characters like Marina in Rome, Open City, who ultimately betrays her Italian ex-boyfriend, and women who have been stripped of their “femininity” by war. Another disturbing attribute of these films is the homophobia pervasive throughout Rome, Open City and Germany, Year Zero.
The director most frequently attributed to the emergence and vast international popularity of neorealist films was Roberto Rossellini. His World War II centered trilogy of films, which includes Roma, città aperta (1945), Paisà (1946), and Germania anno zero (1948), explore the impact WWII had on the lives of people from all around the globe.
Roma, città aperta is perhaps the most famous neorealist film and is frequently championed as the premier example of the genre. The story involves a group of Italian Resistance fighters, including men, women, children, and priests, who must face war and martyrdom. The plot concerns, “Manfredi, a Resistance leader; Francesco, a printer for an underground newspaper; Pina, his fiancee and organizer of the neighborhood women; Marcello, her activist son; and Don Pietro, priest and committed Partisan” (Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism) and the German occupiers who are after them. Marina, the very epitome of a femme fatale, is constantly tempted to betray her ex-lover Manfredi to the Germans, by way of a lesbian German officer (I will discuss the treatment of sexuality in the next post). Following an attack orchestrated by the neighborhood children, German officers arrest Pina’s lover, Francesco, carrying him away on the back of a truck. As Pina runs after him, she is shot dead in the middle of the street by Francesco’s captors, as her son looks on.
“We were emerging from the tragedy of the war. We had all taken part in it, for we were all its victims. I sought only to picture the essence of things. I had absolutely no interest in telling a romanticized tale along the usual lines of film drama. The actual facts were each more dramatic than any screen cliché.”
– Roberto Rossellini, famed neorealist director (Quandt)
For one to understand the importance of neorealist films in the 1940s, one must first look at the previous eras in Italian filmmaking. Neorealist films and the aims of the directors and crew proved to be vastly different from their cinematic predecessors.