Benito Mussolini Neorealism Essay

Following the downfall of Benito Mussolini’s fascist rule and the devastation of the Second World War, the nation of Italy saw the origination of a cinematic movement known as neorealism. Regarded as “one of the most innovative and important movements” in Italy’s collection of art (Schiavo 107), neorealism began in 1945 and continued through 1952, with Italian film directors creating an assortment of material culture that depicted a shift in the nation’s identity (Ruberto 3).

Through the utilization of language, nonprofessional actors, and stories about the working class, neorealist films reflect the transformation of Italian culture in the aftermath of sociopolitical turmoil. Comparably, between 1937 and 1946, the American film industry produced a number of films meant to allow Americans to understand the cultural changes that were occurring as a result of World War II (McLaughlin vii). Though both of these cinematographic trends served a similar purpose of portraying fictional realities in the context of history, their methods of filmmaking differ significantly.

Very nice! After Mussolini was elected Italian Prime Minister in 1924, a fascist form of government was enforced through structural violence and a strict necessity to conform to linguistic homogeneity, which Mussolini believed was essential to the uniformity of the nation’s identity (Giusto 288). After the demise of fascist rule, filmmakers gained moderate freedom from censorship and they began to take liberties regarding linguistic expression in art.

In addition to this, in the aftermath of World War II, Italian culture resolved to express class struggles through film, offering an unrestrained portrayal of “the experience of war, poverty, and suffering” (Wagstaff 409). A powerful example of linguistic liberty in Italian neorealist film is demonstrated in Roberto Rossellini’s Paisa, which was released in 1946. A series of six episodes, the film portrays the lives of Americans in Italy and their association with the Italians during World War II.

An overarching theme of the film is communication barriers, with Paisa featuring the use of many different dialects. The use of linguistic diversity in the film is a reflection of realistic cultural distress (Schiavo 108). For example, in the first episode of the film, just one of the Americans speaks Italian, representing the linguistic barriers that the American soldiers were faced with during the war. Also, some scenes in the film depict differences in the dialects of Italians from different regions that hinder their ability to communicate effectively.

While American World War II films were produced to give the American people a better understanding of the impact that the war had on culture, these films did depict fictional realities, though not quite as starkly as Italian neorealist films. As neorealism theorist Cesare Zavattini notes, the goal of Italian cinema during the 1940s and 1950s was to illustrate world events in a realistic sense, while American films remained “unnaturally filtered” (Snyder 51).

Whereas neorealist films utilized themes such as linguistic differences that hinder communication, American films focused on themes such as political neutrality. Perhaps the most notable American film set during World War II is Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca, which premiered in 1942. Although Casablanca is set during the war, the film’s protagonist, Rick, displays a refusal to discuss the war or politics, reflecting America’s neutrality until December 1941.

Due to differences in the worldview of Italians and Americans during the war, the films produced by these two societies provide very different perspectives of the war. Having been geographically isolated from much of the physical aspect of the war, American World War II films focused on portraying the war in the context of politics, rather than economics. Between the start of World War II in 1939 and 1944 “U. S. output reached its wartime peak” (Harrison 81).

As film historian Thomas Schatz states, the war had a positive effect on the American economy, with the United States experiencing “unprecedented economic prosperity” (Scott 1). Contrastingly, Italy’s gross domestic product steadily declined during World War II, reaching its lowest point in 1945, when the war was coming to a close (Harrison 11). The economic conditions in Italy during the war may have come as a culture shock to Americans on account of the United States being considerably affluent during wartime.

As a result of the significant cultural changes that transpired in Italy during the Second World War, filmmakers sought after a way to realistically present the struggles that the Italian working class endured, which was successfully represented in material culture through the use of language in neorealist cinema. Following the war, Italy was faced with the difficult obstacle of reclaiming its national oneness, and in some instances, families struggled to remain united (Schiavo 108).

In order to effectively illustrate the realistic hardships that the Italian people underwent, many neorealist film directors cast nonprofessional actors in lead roles. For example, Ladri di biciclette, translated Bicycle Thieves in English, was directed by Vittorio De Sica and released in 1948; the film features three protagonists all portrayed by actors who were “taken from the streets” (Wagstaff 316). The director’s decision to have nonprofessional actors fill three lead roles contributes to a greater sense of realism, by which the Italian neorealist movement is largely characterized.

The film begins with a man named Antonio Ricci who is in desperate need of a job. He is offered work, but it requires a bicycle, which he does not own. When he communicates this information to his wife, she strips the sheets off of the bed and they take them to a pawnshop, allowing Antonio to retrieve his pawned bicycle. However, on the first day of his new job, Antonio’s bicycle is stolen. This series of events drives Antonio to the limits of what is considered to be acceptable behavior in society. At one point in the film, Antonio steals a bicycle, which causes him to be “apprehended and humiliated in front of his son” (Wagstaff 321).

A film about a man who is poor and unemployed enabled Italians to see a fictionalized version of their reality observed and preserved in a cinematic artifact. Also, Rossellini’s Paisa provides viewers of the film with the chance to experience the tragedy that the characters are collectively enduring (Ricciardi 490). American soldiers in Italy were presented with the opportunity to observe, firsthand, the living conditions that the Italians suffered during the war, providing them with a broader perspective regarding foreign cultures during wartime.

Furthermore, the nonprofessional actors in neorealist films frequently spoke in vernacular language, providing lower class viewers with a greater sense of reassurance due to the absence of more “elevated language” (Schiavo 110). Conversely, American World War II films did not cast untrained actors to fill lead roles. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman portrayed the primary male and female characters in Casablanca, respectively, both established stars in Hollywood at the time.

Despite the fact that American World War II films were intended to provide insight into the war, the American film industry did not utilize methods of social realism in filmmaking as extensively or as effectively as Italian neorealist films. Neorealist cinema in Italy utilized material culture to reflect a shift in socioeconomic status and national identity following the Second World War. The films produced during this era served to depict the fight against social inequity through art. The transformation of Italian culture in the wake of the Second World War was partly due to the relationship between war and worldview.

Some cultures wage war on the basis of ideology in order to impose their worldview onto other cultures, which, in essence, is highly ethnocentric (Haviland 304). Oftentimes a society will attempt to provide a justification for war through ideas that have been implanted in their worldview (Haviland 306). With the disintegration of the fascist ideology throughout Italy in 1945, substantial sociocultural transformations began to take place in Italian politics, which paved the way for the revolutionary neorealist film movement (Giusto 293).

In conclusion, decades after the close of the Italian neorealist period of cinema, the films produced during the era are widely accessible to people around the world, largely due to global interconnectedness by way of the Internet. People in modern societies can view neorealist films and broaden their perspective of Italian history and culture. As Cesare Zavattini states, “No expressive means besides cinema has the possibility to convey knowledge to the greatest number of people” (Ricciardi 484).

Common characteristics of neorealist films including the use of language, nonprofessional actors, and the presentation of narratives about the working class, allowed for Italian film directors to effectively depict life in Italy following radical sociopolitical change. Similarly, the film industry in the United States produced films that provided an understanding of the war for the American people, though they did not contain as many elements of realism as Italian cinema. Timeless pieces of material culture, Italian neorealist films represent a pivotal moment in the history of Italian politics, society, and culture.