NeoWeb: The Italian Neorealist Homepage

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After Umberto D and its bleak social message failed miserably at the box office, most people felt that the genre had gone as far as it could with the themes of inequality, social discrimination, poverty and unemployment in the context of the realist style of filming. The movement had lasted for ten years and in that time it saw political and social influences destroy the hope for a renewed society that Rossellini first envisioned. And though realist techniques would be revived in later cinematic movements, directors like Visconti, Rossellini and De Sica reevaluated their approach to film.

In the brief life of the neorealist movement from 1943 to 1952, Italy lived a complex life and was able to cope with many difficulties. It freed itself from the tyranny of the Nazi-Fascist occupation, and it quickly rebuilt its industrial base after the ravages of war. But it would never effectively deal with the great stratification of class that continued to exist, forcing a life of poverty and unemployment on so many. The earliest hope of the communist and socialist resistance fightersūthat a new "classless" society might emergeūdisintegrated. During the end of the war, the oppressor was clear, and direct action could be taken against the Nazis. But as reconstruction began and capitalist ideas took precedence, it became hard to tell who was to blame for the destruction of a unified society and the alienation of its individuals. Neorealism captured this growing confusion in the transformation of its "story". Its clear cut enemy in Open City was replaced by society in Bicycle Thief, and by the time of Umberto D it became clear that perhaps it was the individual nature of man himself that ultimately destroyed his chances for well-being.

As neorealist film made the viewer aware of the sources of these problems, its message about hope for the future changed too. When Open City saw the barbaric Nazis as the source of social illness, it had a target to strike out at and knew that the world would be better some day. But once it had dealt with the outside threat and hardship continued, the filmmakers had to look inward to find the causes. As this examination became increasingly focused, through the works of Bicycle Thief and Umberto D, it became tragically apparent that the true problem was in the unchangeable form of human nature. With this realization came the shattering of any utopian hopes that still existed, making neorealism one of the most beautiful but tragic stories in film history.

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