- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Gilbert Seah
TIFF Cinematheque presents – Italian Neorealism
Italian neorealism(Neorealismo) is a style of film characterized by stories set amongst the poor and working class, filmed on location, frequently using nonprofessional actors.
Italian neorealist films mostly contend with the difficult economic and moral conditions of post-World War II Italy, reflecting the changes in the Italian psyche and the conditions of everyday life, poverty and desperation.
Perhaps the most famous of these films is the Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece, originally titled THE BICYCLE THIEF. This film together with many more classics by such renowned directors as Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and Pier Paolo Pasolini will be presented during the month of August. A few of these are rare screenings that should not be missed.
For complete showtimes, program listing and ticket pricing, check the TIFF Cinematheque website at:
A total of 23 neorealism films will be screened. Of these, 6 are capsuled reviewed below to help in your selection:
LADRI DI BICICLETTE (Bicycle Thieves) (Italy 9148) *****
Directed by Vittorio De Sica
One of the most beloved and heartbreaking films of all times, De Sica’s LADRI DI BICICLETTE is the ultimate neorealist film. It tells of a man, Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) who has his bicycle, his only means of making a living stolen. Desperate, he roams the streets on a Sunday with his son (Enzo Staiola) hunting down the thief. The adventures provide more trouble than ever, as the thief is found, but there is nothing that can be done with no evidence or witnesses. De Sica ups the suspense many times during the film, especially in the early scenes when the audience knows that the bicycle is going to be stolen, or when Antonio is deciding whether to steal another bike. The non-professional actors are surprisingly perfect, especially Staiola as the son. The poor working class atmosphere is effectively created as well as the desperation of the Romans unable to get decent work. LADRI DI BICICLETTE is still a pleasure to watch, time and time again!
MAMMA ROMA (Italy 1962) ****
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Arguably the best, most accessible of all the Pasolini films, aided by the strong presence of actress Anna Magnani, MAMMA ROMA tells the story of ex-prostititute known by the said name who aims for a better life selling her wares at the local market stall. The impetus is the love for her 16-year old son who gets into trouble by hanging around bad company. MAMMA ROMA contains many memorable scenes, one with mother and son dancing the tango, another where she brings three pigs to the wedding feast of her ex- pimp and the best has her walking through the night, with her ex-clients moving in and out of the camera frame. All comes to naught when the son Ettore (Ettore Garolfola) learns of his mother’s past profession. I still love my mother he confesses, as I will still cry if she dies. The funniest part of the film is the priest’s advice to her to start from scratch to solve her problems. She realizes it is not possible but sends her son to school instead. When she attempts to jump out of the window in desperation, the shot of the church dome illustrates the irony of her life. The film brilliantly depicts director Pasolini’s view of Italian life that what goes wrong comes from the people themselves, society and religion.
OSSESSIONE (OBSESSION) (Italy 1943) ***
Directed by LuchinoVisconti
Visconti’s first film shows a lot of his character and the trend of his future films. Recognisable instantly as a version of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, OBSESSION is a drifter’s preying on a husband and wife that leads to murder. His actors are almost perfect specimens in looks. “You are built like a horse” the wife tells the stranger – the words leading to the seduction. But the love affair turns sour with suspicion, lust and of course, obsession with one another. The aim of a better life – the element common to Visconti’s later films lingers in the narrative’s background. Shot in black and white, OBSESSION is a bit long and tedious and parts but still a remarkable first film. Again, his film lacks a happy ending perhaps illustrating the director’s lack of faith in humankind.
IL POSTO (Italy 1061) ****
Directed by Ermanno Omni
As far as neorealism and IL POSTO goes, Omni’s film is the one of the smoothest, most natural and charming of the lot of programmed films. Omni’s camera work more than compensates for the low budget, minimalist story and non-professional actors used. This is eminent from the film’s start where Omni captures the one eye opening of the lead character as he pretends to be still asleep as his father wakes him up to go to the city to sit for an important job entry test. It turns out after a rather odd series of tests that include calculating how much left in centimetres are left from a roll of copper wire after a third and then three quarters are taken off from the remainder, Domenico (Sandro Panseri) and a girl, Antonietta (Loredana Detto) that he meets both get the jobs at the company. The clerks work pretty much the same way in an office where the head sits at the front of the room as what might be seen say in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The settings are dated but they bring out the nostalgia of times foregone. Omni traces the routine of Domencico as he escapes his smothering family, finds teenage love and finally gets the clerical position after the death of one employee. IL POSTO is entertaining due to its simplicity, charm and of course neorealism so effectively captured on screen by Omni.
LA TERRA TREMA (THE EARTH TREMBLES) (Italy 1948) ****
Directed by Luchino Visconti
The title of Visconti’s study of man preying on man - THE EARTH TREMBLES, sounds like the title of a horror movie – but upon closer examination, his film is one. Told from the view of the voiceover that puts the story into perspective and keeps the film on track, the film traces the struggle of one of many fishermen families that etch out a living from a village off Sicily while selling their catch in neighbouring Catania. The protagonist, Ntony decides to mortgage his house to get the better of the exploiting wholesalers, but Mother Nature is not on his side, destroying his boat during a nasty storm. Visconti storytelling style is straight forward – set up situation; show injustice; provide a possible solution. The use of metaphors (the fish attracted towards the decoying light only to be caught) is at times too obvious. What transpires after is the director’s vision and decision of what and how he wants to get (the message) across. LA TERRA TREMA could have been made as a documentary about poor fishermen but this fictionalized story in neorealism is more effective as the human drama is magnified. Filmed in actual locations with a cast of locals (mostly stunning), LA TERRA TREMA is good old fashioned filmmaking at its best.
UMBERTO D (Italy 1952) ****
Directed by Vittorio De Sica
Made after LADRI DI BICICLETTE, though not as good but still effective in its storytelling, UMBERT D begins with a march of elderly men for the raising of pensions which is quickly stopped by the police because the men had no permit to march. The crowd files out of the square, still muttering their protests, with the camera eventually focusing in on one of the marchers, Umberto D (non-professional actor Carlo Battisti). The story centres on this old man who needs money to prevent his eviction from his rented room. He is unable to find the money and is depressed to the point of suicide. His old friends are a pregnant maid and Flike, his dog. De Sica’s camera follows UMBERTO D around the town evoking the audience’s emotions as a decent man tries to survive in a hard world without enough money. The simple climax is sufficient to shake the audience out of their seats.