1940s, 1960s, A History Of Film, And God Created Woman, André Bazin, Article, À bout de souffle, Benito Mussollini, Breathless, Cahiers du Cinéma, Cahiers Du Cinema The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Cinema, Cultural Studies, David Bordwell, Essay, Et Dieu … créa la femme, Federico Fellini, Film, Film Art: An Introduction, Film Article, Film essay, Film History: An Introduction, Film Studies, France, Francois Truffaut, French, French Cinema, French Culture, French New Wave, French New Wave Cinema, Hollywood, Italian, Italian Cinema, Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present, Italian Culture, Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism, Italian Neorealism, Italian Neorealism And Global Cinema, Italian Neorealist Cinema, Italy, Jean-Luc Godard, Jim Hillier, John T Ellis, Kristi M. Wilson, Kristin Thompson, Laura E. Ruberto, Les quatre cents coups, Millicent Joy Marcus, Movies, New Wave, Open City, Pam Cook, Peter Bondanella, Roberto Rossellini, Roma città aperta, Rome, The 400 Blows, The Cinema Book, Virginia Wexman, Vittorio De Sica
After the fall of Benito Mussolini’s government in 1945, the Italian film industry experienced economic and political crisis. As a result, film studios were damaged and expenses were low. However, experienced Italian filmmakers, such as Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica generated the idea to work outside of studios and reflect the effects of World War II in their films. This movement became known as Italian Neorealism. Although it was short-lived, it had a great influence on French film critics, who eventually became directors and formulated the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) movement. This literature review will analyse the effects of the Italian Neorealist style within specific films, followed by comparing and contrasting this movement with French New Wave in relation to personal influence and filming techniques.
Italian Neorealism created a distinctive approach to film style (Bordwell and Thompson, 2010). In A History Of Film (Ellis and Wexman, 2010, p170) the director Federico Fellini believed that Neorealism is about observing any kind of reality with an honest eye, which includes social, spiritual and metaphysical reality, that is anything a man has inside of him. Therefore, the Italian Neorealist style presented the political and economic struggle of the Italian culture; hence, it had a semi-documentary touch. Marcus (1986, p18) believes that Neorealism offered a strenuously analytic, crude, dramatic representation of a human condition tormented between will and inclinations. Similarly, André Bazin, a French film critic, called Neorealism a “cinema of fact” and “reconstituting reportage with a message” (cited in Bondanella, 1996, p31). Presenting the authentic reality in Neorealist films is not necessarily what everybody wants to see; however, they speak the truth and according to Ruberto and Wilson (2007, p94), they also have an “aesthetic approach”.
The Neorealist style formed a balance between real-life issues in Italy and cinematic art. Bondanella (1996, p74) stated that the films capture the spirit of post-war Italian culture; thus, their semi-documentary style made viewers aware of the beauty of ordinary people (Bordwell and Thompson, 2010, p333). This approach was achieved with a low budget by displaying everyday life through location shooting, non-professional actors with an average man touch to it, vernacular dialogue and contemporary subjects. Cinema usually embarks audiences into a fictional world that makes them feel emotionally attached to and these techniques exemplify the Italian lifestyle after the Second World War, which is presented in a rich form of expression (Bondanella, 1996, p75).
The first crucial Neorealist film was Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City (1945), which displayed the principle characters struggling against the German troops, occupying Rome.The director allowed the audience to freely interpret the narrative and the themes (Hillier, 1985). Ruberto and Wilson (2007, p92) highlighted that Rossellini’s goal of Italian Neorealism was to transcend the opposition, whereas Bordwell and Thompson (2010, p337) argued that Rossellini continued the Neorealist project by “bringing people’s awareness of spiritual truth, self-knowledge and obligation to others”. Therefore, Rossellini’s films, particularly Rome Open City, expressed a dark but natural tone, which added a touch of seriousness and were “not much fun” (Hillier, 1985, p201).
Prior to Italian Neorealism, Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica had already made films (Bordwell and Thompson, 2010, p473); therefore, Ellis and Wexman (2002, p163) consider their previous experience as an advantage, which gave them momentum to develop the national film culture further. However, by the end of the 1950s, Italian Neorealism gave way to a mixture of ‘art’ and ‘genre’ (Cook, 2007, p234), which resulted in the slight disappearance of the movement. Due to the return of large-scale film productions in Italy, Neorealism lost the freedom of producing small, low-budget films (Bordwell and Thompson, 2010, p474).
The French New Wave movement began the same way as Italian Neorealism – through a film journalist magazine. In the 1950s, a group of critics from Cahiers Du Cinema magazine were inspired by Italian Neorealist cinema and consequently, they became film directors. However, Cook (2007, p405) commented that before the French New Wave started, the French film industry had already been open to the idea of low-budget production, following the success of Et Dieu … créa la femme (And God Created Woman). Nevertheless, Evans (2009) discussed that the birth of this new movement was due to the critics’ dissatisfaction regarding the old-fashioned French cinema at the time. In addition, Bordwell and Thompson (2010) state that Italian Neorealism became an influence due to its political attitudes, worldview and innovations in film form. Hillier (1985, p177) also suggested that Italian Neorealism illustrated features that French filmmakers could aim to. As a result, French New Wave was born out of inspiration for Italian Neorealism and therefore, these movements were connected.
One of the most prominent film critics, who became a director, was Jean-Luc Godard. Bordwell and Thompson (2010, p410) described Godard as a “demanding critic who became the most provocative New Wave filmmaker” and that he represented experimental elements of the New Wave in his films better than other directors (Ellis and Wexman, 2002, p231). Godard’s style illustrated “vibrant realism” (Evans, 2009) and, similarly to Italian Neorealism, his films reflect on the artistic value of popular cinema, along with the implication of filmmaking and cultural criticism (Cook, 2007, p405). Therefore, Godard’s filmmaking style was to maintain the audience’s cinematic experience and to encourage critical insight.
Jean-Luc Godard was inspired by the cinema to make films and he gained life experience through it (Bordwell and Thompson, 2010, p475). He had a clear insight and contribution to filmmaking both through his critical analysis and films. Godard had his own directing style but at the same time, he used various elements from Italian Neorealism. Evans (2009) believed that Godard’s “raw” and “new” films explored social and political issues. His greatest inspiration from Italian Neorealism was Roberto Rossellini and his film Rome Open City in particular (Ruberto and Wilson, 2007, p93). Godard stated that he “knew of no film that better celebrates traditional virtues of courage and generosity than Rome Open City” (cited in Hillier, 1985, p.177).
Godard used Italian Neorealism elements in his debut film Breathless (1960). For example, the film was shot at a low-budget which enabled a sense of truthful reality as opposed to studio-based Hollywood films. The overall intention was not exactly the same as Italian Neorealism seeing as they were displaying economic struggles but Godard’s Breathless still displayed filming the real from a different perspective. The film focuses on a young car thief who flees to Italy after killing a policeman. Related stories happen in general society and Godard used Italian Neorealism as a tool to produce his own style. Nevertheless, Godard encouraged the critical approach of general society through making films in an identical Italian Neorealist form.
Godard’s fellow Cahiers Du Cinema critic François Truffaut was another important figure in the French New Wave movement. In one of his articles, Truffaut argued that “critics favoured a cinema of personal vision” (cited in Ellis and Wexman, 2002, p409) and that “French directors should be the creators of their films” (cited in Ellis and Wexman, 2002, p220). In other words, Truffaut believed that French directors had the capability to use their own imaginations and develop their own filming style. Benecke (2010) believes Truffaut was “trying to create his own individuality upon a film; thus gaining ‘auteur’ status”. Therefore, Truffaut was a consistent, logical individual where he was a film director still with the mind of a critic.
Truffaut began his filmmaking career in the same way as Godard, as a “passionate and flamboyant” (Cook, 2007, p408) film critic. However, Truffaut’s inspirations were different compared to Godard’s as they came from Hollywood directors and their works. These directors had various inspirations that indicated their passion for worldwide cinema. Furthermore, Truffaut and Godard worked as a team and supported each other with creating their films. They intended to explore cultural problems, which was the central purpose of Italian Neorealism. Hence, this illustrated that collaborations between artistic peers with a similar style can produce strong films at a great depth. Benecke (2010) highlighted that unexplored filming techniques can be a source of inspiration along with past works. However, the weak aspect of this statement is that forming a technique from another film could lead to a form of copyright, in which directors could duplicate the style. For example, Godard’s influence of Italian Neorealism could have led him to include specific visual or thematic references, specifically in Rossellini’s Rome Open City. Cinematic references are often deliberately included to imply a hint to the audience. In Godard’s case, he included references of the movement, such as location shooting and contemporary subject in his own style and, therefore, illustrated the affect Italian Neorealism had on him.
Despite the fact Bordwell and Thompson (2010) established that Roberto Rossellini’s work influenced French New Wave critics to become directors, it was Bicycle Thieves (1948) by Vittorio De Sica that was the most notable representation of the Italian Neorealism style. In fact, Bradshaw (2008) believed “Neorealism never got more real than Bicycle Thieves” and, according to Cook (2007), it portrayed an honest depiction of the cultural problems during that period. The film has a simple story through which De Sica highlighted the present economic and cultural issues in Rome. With this in mind, the city of Rome becomes an important character. The decision to shoot the film deliberately on-location reflects the post-war re-construction of Rome, aiming the viewers to understand the Italian culture as a character. On the other hand, from a director’s perspective, filming in exterior spaces is another stylistic technique of filmmaking. Therefore, location shooting in Italian Neorealism was to illustrate the damage in post-war Italy through the artistic form of cinema.
Furthermore, instead of emphasizing on the dialogue and performance (Ellis and Wexman, 2002), Bicycle Thieves displays its characters as ordinary individuals, who were portrayed by amateurs due to their authentic looks and behaviour (Bordwell and Thompson, 2010). For example, the film’s protagonist Antonio was portrayed by Lamberto Maggiorani, who at the time was a factory worker. Similarly to location-shooting, the inclusion of amateur actors was to grasp the nature of ordinary people. Nevertheless, although these actors performed in a realistic manner, there was no indication of their motivations and mind-set (Ruberto and Wilson (2007). Italian Neorealism, unlike Hollywood, did not have a typical hero and villain as Bicycle Thieves’ characters presented the cultural struggles in Italy. In addition, other filming techniques, such as natural lighting and unobtrusive editing, became an illustration of low-budget productions and the Italian film industry struggle behind the camera. Haaland (2009) suggests that after decades since its release, Bicycle Thieves is a more modern film than what it was initially; hence, it influenced more low-budget productions through visual style.
Bazin (1949)’s account of Bicycle Thieves has been compared with French New Wave film The 400 Blows (1959) as both films have “the same realist, humanist and renewed set of realist conventions” (cited in Hillier, 1985, p25). Roberto Rossellini was claimed to be the most inspiring Italian Neorealist director and Jean-Luc Godard as the most influenced in the French New Wave movement (Bordwell and Thompson, 2010, p475). However, it is Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows that are the stand-out connections between the two movements, regarding their visual and thematic styles. For example, both films illustrate a bleak but truthful outlook on general society through location shooting and focusing on working-class citizens.
The 400 Blows, set in 1950s Paris, reflects on Truffaut’s youth, following in similar footsteps of Italian Neorealism, which includes location shooting and using in-experienced actors with a “deliberately loose and flexible” (Sterritt, 2006, pp64) touch to it. Child actor Jean-Pierre Léaud had not been considered as unprofessional as it was his on-screen debut. Following in similar footsteps to 9-year old Enzo Staiola’s role as Bruno in Bicycle Thieves, Léaud became like an ordinary child. Being only 14 years old at the time, his lack of on-screen experience consequently helped capture the realistic touch that French New Wave intended to reflect on, similarly to Italian Neorealism.
To conclude, this review indicated that the connection between Italian Neorealism and French New Wave illustrated cinema itself as an inspirational source, and does so from the perspectives of critics. On the other hand, the mutual purpose of reflecting social and economic truth through the creativity of film had encouraged the critical analysis and understanding of cultural society. Nevertheless, neither movement lasted a decade, but they have remained important to the film industry to this day and, thus, indicate how the smallest ideas lead to the largest results.