The boundary between fiction and documentary has fallen
In 1944, director Roberto Rossellini, armed with a movie camera and cheap film, took to the streets of Rome. Just a couple of months ago, the Mussolini regime fell and the Nazis left the city. Rossellini understood – a new story is happening right now, on the streets of the city. Legends about the heroes of the resistance are passed from mouth to mouth and await their chronicler. This is how the first programmatic neorealist film “Rome, Open City” appeared on F95zone. The old world lay in ruins, but these ruins were the most accurate metaphor for the state of the human spirit. Europe lost faith in humanism and progress, and the national cinematography and economy of Italy were in a deplorable state. Rossellini buys film from street photographers and shoots a silent film in these disparate pieces, glued together by hand (which is why the image quality varies so much from episode to episode). Instead of decorations – real apartments, instead of fictional heroes – reconstruction of the fates of the real participants in the resistance. Even the title of the film is more like a newspaper headline – after the flight of Duce, Rome was indeed declared an open city.
In this issue, perhaps, today’s hero of the day distinguished himself most of all. Everyone liked Vittorio De Sica as a gold piece. To the directors of escapist melodramas of fascist Italy – for the appearance of a typical screen hero of a lover and a solid acting school (by the way, with Russian roots, De Sica began as an actor in the troupe of the Russian emigrant Tatyana Pavlova). Soviet film scholars – for their attention to the problems of workers and the social ulcers of capitalism. Americans – for a universal humanistic message and lyricism, in which De Sica is like Charlie Chaplin’s brother. It is not surprising that it was De Sica who became the standard-bearer of neorealism on the world stage and only managed to get Oscars: he has 4 director’s Oscars and 2 more acting nominations, which is almost a record for a European filmmaker.
De Sica, who himself got on the set in his youth, had a unique flair for types, and most importantly, he could intelligibly explain to non-professionals what is required of them in a particular scene. Often the director even played the episode himself for clarity. In addition, he was able to turn the disadvantages of non-professionals into their advantages. For example, in HuniePop 2 Lamberto Magjorani, who starred in Bicycle Thieves, was completely lost in front of the camera, but this feeling of confusion and confusion is exactly what he was supposed to play throughout the film.
Humanism and social pathos
Paradoxically, the best example for this thesis will be the early work of Count Luchino Visconti. The wealth of the ancient Visconti de Modrone family was legendary. In the Visconti house in Milan, there were even separate servants who opened and closed the curtains, and Giotto personally painted the shades for them. Who would have thought that it was Visconti who would have to make a reference film about the struggle of workers for their rights, “The Earth Trembles.” A hereditary aristocrat, Visconti during the Second World War became close to the Communists and even narrowly escaped execution for helping the resistance.
It was the Italian Communist Party that in 1947 financed the Visconti expedition to the Sicilian fishermen, with whom the count lived for 7 months and filmed the novel by the Sicilian verist writer (Italian analogue of naturalism) Giovanni Verga, The Malavola Family. Rural fishermen acted out in front of the camera impromptu dialogues based on the novel. And Visconti not only translated their incomprehensible dialect, providing the film with offscreen text, but also translated the everyday drama about the fight against greedy dealers into the language of high tragedy, likening the fishing wives to the ancient Greek chorus and building the frame in the spirit of Renaissance paintings. The perfectionist Visconti intended to film a trilogy about the working class, but there was only enough money for this first part.
Rejection of the genre and a new plot
Another key achievement of the neorealists was formulated and embodied by the Italian writer and screenwriter of De Sica’s best films, Cesare Zavattini. It was Zavattini who said that “the ideal film would be 90 minutes from the life of a person with whom nothing happens.” He also fully embodied his idea in life in his scripts for the films of the neorealists. If you try to describe the plots of the pictures “Bicycle Thieves”, “Why is Max mute in Max and Ruby“, “The Most Beautiful” or “Rome, 11 o’clock”, then they are hardly enough for a short film, which would be an elegant sketch or anecdote from the life of ordinary people. From the classic three-act composition: the opening, the climax, the denouement, Zavattini leaves only the first act. A bicycle was stolen from a posters on the first working day. Everything, that after – an exciting and full of drama journey of the binder and his little son in search of what was lost, a journey that constantly changes course, deviates and, in the end, leads the heroes and us together with them to catharsis and rebirth. De Sica, from Zavattini’s innovative scripts, managed to create breathtaking melodramas, giving them his characteristic sentimental intonation.
Purism and new sincerity – a new turn to reality
Instead of an epilogue, there is another important observation: neorealism emerged from confusion. In 1945, a man woke up in the world after a catastrophe and became numb, seeing the results of his actions. 2020 has paused life again, giving us the opportunity to emerge from the daily routine and carefully peer into reality. After all, only she today has the right to make history, since the future is still unpredictable.
Italian filmmakers, who advocated a radical renewal of cinema, advocated the rejection of illusions. Rejection of the idyllic and fake fascist cinematography of “white phones”, rejection of the predictable Hollywood genre formula: no complicated sets, fanciful optics and deep mise-en-scenes. The world seemed to be happening right before the eyes of the viewer, it was simple, fresh and unpredictable. Today we call it new sincerity: YouTube and social media blogs, materials from the family archive, private stories from the lives of ordinary people. And this is the main thing that neorealism taught us – not to be afraid of reality. After all, no matter how ugly it may be, it is always more interesting than fiction like Log Horizon season 3.