Whether you’re a film student, filmmaker, writer, or film fan, Italian neorealism is an important movement to be aware of. For those of you eager to explore the essential neorealist films, we’ve put together a filmography of the key works that came out of the movement, as well as list of sources for further reading…
Obsession / Ossessione (1942): Marking the directorial debut of key realist director, Luchino Visconti, this is arguably the first entry in the Italian neorealist catalogue. However, there is some dispute over whether the film is actually in the neorealist style. It’s still worth a look as the story is an Italian take on The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Rome, Open City / Roma città aperta (1945): Directed by Roberto Rossellini, with a script by Sergio Amidei and Federico Fellini, this is the first and one of the most well-known films in the true Italian neorealist style. Set in Rome during the Nazi occupation in 1944, this is the quintessential example of Italian neorealism. Shot on location with non-professional actors, the story depicts the suffering, fear and oppression of the people.
Shoeshine / Sciuscià (1946): Vittorio De Sica’s first major film tells of two shoeshine boys who get into trouble after trying to find the money to buy a horse. The simplistic storyline belies the themes of poverty, struggle and friendship that are more often than not at the heart of neorealist films.
Paisan / Paisà (1946): This is the second in a trilogy by Roberto Rossellini. It’s divided into six chapters, each set in a different location, but all taking place during the Italian Campaign during World War II. Real locations, non-professional actors and improvisation all add to the authenticity of this highly-influential entry in the neorealist catalogue.
Germany, Year Zero / Germania anno zero (1948): Roberto Rossellini rounds out his ‘war’ trilogy with this entry, which takes place in post-war Germany. The film portrays the harsh reality of living in the country in the year following the destruction of the Third Reich, with images of the aftermath of the bombings and people’s struggle for survival.
The Earth Trembles / La Terra Trema (1948): Directed by Luchino Visconti, this tells of fishermen in rural Sicily who try to break free from ruthless wholesalers by buying their own boat and working for themselves. It’s loosely adapted from Giovanni Verga’s novel, I Malavoglia. Visconti had envisioned a trilogy, with this as the first part. However, he decided not to shoot the other two parts.
Bitter Rice / Riso Amaro (1949): This neorealist entry from Giuseppe De Santis was a big hit in the US and Europe. It tells of petty criminals who get involved in a complex plot when one of them joins a group of women rice workers. This film is notable for moving away from the ‘traditional’ neorealist themes and for ramping up the sex and melodrama. The title also has a double meaning, as ‘riso’ also means ‘laughter’ in Italian.
Stromboli / Stromboli, terra di dio (1950): Roberto Rossellini brings us back to classic Italian neorealism with this story of a displaced Lithuanian woman who gets more than she bargained for when she marries a fisherman. Promised a wonderful life on the volcanic island of the title, she soon finds herself stranded in a harsh and barren landscape, desperate to escape. The film has become notorious for the affair between Rossellini and his leading lady, Ingrid Bergman, which scandalized America and derailed the actress’s career for a number of years.
Bellissima (1951): Luchino Visconti directs this satire of the Italian film industry. The story tells of a working-class stage mother who drags her young daughter to the famous Cinecittà Studios in Rome to attend an audition. We could have put this on last issue’s filmmakers on screen list as it features director, Alessandro Blasetti, playing himself.
Miracle in Milan / Miracolo a Milano (1951): Vittorio De Sica, again, this time telling the story of an orphan who finds the world is not as wonderful as he’s raised to believe when he grows up to encounter poverty, treachery and mean-spiritedness. However, he also finds friendship, community…and a magic dove. De Sica channels Charlie Chaplin, among other influences, in this more whimsical and fantastical entry in the neorealist catalogue.
Rome 11:00 / Roma ore 11 (1952): Giuseppe De Santis directs this neorealist classic, which tells of five young women who join a throng of 200 ladies desperate to secure a secretarial job, only for tragedy to strike. This film’s notable for actually being based on a true story. It’s also a comment on the high rates of unemployment in Italy, as well as women’s position in society.
Europe ’51 (1952): Roberto Rossellini reteams with Ingrid Bergman for this tale of a woman who gets the overwhelming urge to help people following her son’s death. After she’s arrested for sheltering a criminal, she’s declared insane and sent to an asylum. Rossellini’s aim was to place a saint-like character in Italian society post-WWII and explore people’s reaction to someone who selflessly helps those less fortunate.
Umberto D. (1952): Get the tissues out for Vittorio De Sica’s tale of an elderly man on the verge of homelessness and destitution. Too proud to beg on the street, but unable to live on his meagre government pension, he believes his only way out is suicide. But first he must find a home for his little dog, Flike. A comment on Italy’s treatment of its senior citizens and a real tear-jerker, this late entry in the neorealist catalogue is among the most affecting. Some film historians also cite this film as marking the end of the neorealist movement following a number of public attacks.
Journey to Italy / Voyage to Italy / Viaggio in Italia (1954): Roberto Rossellini directs this melodrama, which is often placed under the neorealist umbrella. It tells of an English couple visiting Italy to sell a house who find their marriage close to breaking point, before a religious procession in Naples has a profound effect on them both.
So, there you have it! Obviously, this list is not exhaustive and there are plenty more examples of Italian neorealism – not to mention all the films that inspired the movement and those inspired by it.
It’s easy to think of Italian neorealism as black & white films depicting people struggling in post-WWII Italy. However, the movement was far more diverse and reflected lots of different styles and filmmaking approaches. We hope you’re now inspired to dive in and enjoy some of these classic films!
For those of you itching for more, here are some links to further reading:
1. Interview with neorealist screenwriter, Suso Cecchi d’Amico: http://zakka.dk/euroscreenwriters/screenwriters/suso_cecchi_damico.htm
2. Article on Vittorio De Sica: http://hcl.harvard.edu/hfa/films/2010aprjun/de_sica.html
3. Article on Italian neorealism:
4. Article on the origins of neorealism:
5. Article on the neorealist movement and the key figures:
Issue 12 of RSL is out on 30 November.