From silent cinema to neorealism


(Bondanella: suggested reading page 1-30 )

a) 1906 – the first “cine company” appear in Italy
b) the cinematographic genres of this period were: historical – dramas – Roman Epic – Adventure – comic work and experimental cinema (avant-garde)
c) The most popular were the historical films (Cabiria – Quo Vadis – Last Days of Pompeii) and the cinema of VERISM

d) A critique referable to these last two genres is the excess of melodrama and stardom and a lack of deepening of the human theme that will be resumed instead by neo-realism

e) Alongside these genres, we also find the Futurist cinema that presents itself more as a form of art  than as a form of entertainment

f) Regarding the film industry, although very developed, this has never exceeded the success of American productions in Italy .. the fate of the cinema was raised only in 1934 thanks to the protectionist laws in support of the Italian film industry




a) despite the dictatorship, the Italian regime, differently from other regimes, left scope for expression to the artists, as long as these did not incite, with their works, the overthrow of the regime itself.
b) there was never a true propaganda cinema in Italy. The propaganda was mostly conveyed through the LUCE institute movies, shown in theaters before the movies
c) Supported by the regime was instead the epic cinema and the “white telephone” genre.

Later, inspired by the literary genre, appear the “realistic” genre (Realism)  that was based on a mix of fiction and documentary began to be successful

This genre allowed to offer an image of Italy, with its monuments and its beauties, such as to favor a renewal of the patriotic spirit considered fundamental to the maintenance and functioning of the regime.
This genre would then be transformed into neorealism.

Even if no real propaganda was made, during the Fascism the cinema served as a vehicle for the dissemination of the themes dear to fascism, first of all, that of the predominance of the Italian race. Themes treated above all through war films:

d) Important moments in the Italian film industry:

~ 1929: LUCE Institute (The Educational Film Union): aim was to promote and create educational documentaries
~ 1934: laws for the preservation of Italian cinema abroad and the obligation to dubbing foreign films
~ 1934 (DGC) Directorate General of Cinema: Office of Censorship. More than preventing the release of a film, they modified the contents considered hostile to the regime.
– 1934 MINICULPOP Ministry of popular culture – Objective was the dissemination of fascist ideas among the people
~ 1935 ENIC (National Cinematographic Industry): acquisition of suitable locations for the projection of films
~ 1935 Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia : professional school of cinema
~ 1937 Cinecitta ‘: Italian Studios


(Bondanella:  suggested reading: pg 31-73 // mandatory reading: pg 31-37)


– Realistic treatments
– Popular setting
– Social contents
– Historical activity and Political commitment
– Reportage
– Solidarity to antifascist resistance
– Rejection of Fascist dramatic cinema
– Use of non-professional actors

b) The idea of Neorealism was to provide the reproduction of reality and facts without being influenced by prejudices or ideologies: this is surely one of the great illusions of neorealism. This objective was pursued through a documentary adaptation of the film.
Hence the rejection of the use of film sets (which leads back to fiction) and the preference for the use of non-professional actors.
Actually, neorealism has never been so naive as he wanted to make belief.
The directors mixed imagination and reality aware of creating a new kinematics reality (social construction of reality)

c) Neorealism has never captured the great masses

d) Neorealism plays with the stereotypes of good and evil

e) Neorealism loves to mix tragedy and irony with the aim of emphasizing the tragedy of life

f) Neorealism has been strongly criticized and hindered especially by the leaders of the Christian Democratic party (who ruled from the post-war period and for the next 40 years) who saw in this cinema a dangerous instrument of communist propaganda


Some of the most important directors of Neorealism

Vittorio DeSica  in “Children are watching us – (1942)” – “Shoeshine (1946)” ” The Bicycle Thief (1948)” -“Umberto D (1951)” explores the themes of every day life sometimes with the documentary style

b) Luchino Visconti,  with “The earth trembles (1948)”  introduces the filming out of the set and the involvement of the inhabitants of  Acci Trezza, a Sicilian village. He introduces the use of live audio and dialect, and for this reason the film, to be understood by Italians, must be subtitled. This story of fishermen has also made school for his wonderful photography.

C) Roberto Rossellini: “Roma open city” (1945) a story about the life in Rome during the German occupation and the partisan’s fight against the German invaders.

d) Giuseppe DeSantis: “Bitter Rice” a realistic portrait of the post-war period and of the reconstruction in a movie halfway between the documentary and the gangster movie style

e) Michelangelo Antonioni: “The Po” (1943), “N.U.” (1948) …real documentaries rather than films