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Pre-Neorealism: Obsession

The landing of allied forces on the beaches of Sicily in the south of Italy on July 10, 1943 signaled the beginning of the end for the reign of Italian fascism that lasted nearly two decades. Fascism's leader, Benito Mussolini, was arrested on July 25, and the Allies declared a new government only a month later. This government called for the immediate surrender of the Italian forces, though the Allies had only begun their assault on the south of the country, and Nazi Germany still controlled the major population centers in the north. Thus, Italian units were able to transfer to the German military body, and continue the war against the Allies for another two years. With the help of a rescued Mussolini, they established the new Italian Social Republic, maintaining the Fascist institution of northern Italy.

Prior to the capture of Mussolini in the summer of 1943, Italian cinema had been highly censored by the Fascist authorities. The films produced under the regime portrayed an "obligatory optimism of Mussolini's empire and its fairy tales about a happy Italy populated with healthy minds and healthy bodies." (Liehm, 55). It was not until the end of this year, while Allies physically challenged the Fascists, that directors started to produce films that ideally challenged the "perfect world" of the existing regime.

One of these films was Visconti's Obsession, which was the pre-cursor to the neorealist movement. Though its script was approved by the Fascist censors at the time, it attempted to portray the "real" Italy--one where blemishes such as unemployment had serious effects on people and where people had lost their struggle with the life full of squalid conditions. Visconti accomplished this message not through the use of the plot but through the realistic filming methods that he adopted from the pre-war realism of French directors like Renoir. Using real footage of the streets of Italy, and using as actors the people that lived on them, Visconti was able to tell a story the dirtiness, the crime and the unemployment of fascist repression without using the plot to explicitly attack the foundation of Mussolini's government.

When the Fascist regime saw the film, they abhorred it. The Bologna daily, Avvenire d'Italia, stated that "the movie is a concoction of repulsive passions, humiliation and decay. It is an offense to the Italian people, the life it pretends to portray on a thoroughly imaginary and impossible level." (Liehm, 58). Though the film's portrayal of Italian life in the realist manner was rejected on many fronts, Obsession's historical importance was recognized; Obsession spelled the end of one era of Italian film and the beginning of a new one.

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