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Cinematographic Representative Models: Cinema in Motion - Neorealism


This article aims to analyze the influence and emergence of different film movements following the birth of Neorealism. Various film movements were influenced and shaped by its groundbreaking approach to storytelling and aesthetics. These subsequent movements built upon the foundation laid by Neorealism while incorporating their own unique characteristics. Most of the renewal movements of the 1950s and 1960s were directly and indirectly influenced by the Neorealist model, as an example the fresh French New Wave, the Nouvelle Vague. The cinematic movement's emphasis on realism and its rejection of traditional cinematic conventions where two main characteristics of the New Wave.


Filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut challenged established filmmaking techniques, experimented with narrative structures, and employed handheld cameras to capture a sense of spontaneity. They brought a fresh and innovative approach to storytelling and greatly impacted the course of international cinema. The young French filmmakers embraced Rossellini's teachings: "Reality is there, why manipulate it?" (Costa, 2021, p. 72). For Bazin, Neorealism was full of social content, but above all, it had aesthetic formal criteria. It was a new way of seeing reality, more dispersed or elliptical. "The image-event" (Bazin, 2018) was no longer represented or reproduced reality but aimed at it (Deleuze, 1987, p. 11): "The concept of the 'image-event,' shifted away from mere representation or reproduction of reality and instead directed itself toward reality", as articulated by Deleuze.



Figure 1: Truffaut during a shoot on the rooftops of Paris (Unknown, n.d.).

This contrasted with the 1950s Italian critical debate, where the discussion centered on transcending Neorealism's boundaries by embracing the novel of the nineteenth-century tradition and adopting a stance of "critical realism." The debate oscillated between two models: in one side there's the tradition of the veristic novel by Giovanni Verga, an influential Italian novelist and playwright known for his works depicting the lives of Sicilian peasants and for his contribution to Italian realism, Verga inspired the group of the magazine Cinema, and on the other hand, the aesthetic model of the Marxist philosopher György Lukács, which served as a reference for Guido Aristarco, who, through the pages of Cinema Nuovo, sought to surpass the neorealist experience through the acquisition of a "literary realism" perspective. Additionally, the contribution of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, one of the most important film theorists of the second half of the 20th century, follows Bazin's interpretive line.


Deleuze sees the transition from classical cinema to modern cinema in Neorealism, from "image-movement" to "image-time". This transition is characterized by the predominance of purely visual and sonic situations, these define the loss of the organic link between perception and action, one of the fundamental features of classical cinema. Deleuze identifies the neorealist image as the expression of a heroic moment and the prefiguration of a radical change in Italian society. It represents a significant break from Hollywood's narrative conventions, aiming to capture the authenticity of everyday life. It gives way to "image-time," that is, the "totality" of the event "in its realization" (Deleuze, 1987, p. 60). This would be in line with his interest in "cinema-thought", advocating for the liberation of perception and the exploration of new forms of visual storytelling. Cinema-thought is the idea that cinema can transcend conventional storytelling and entertainment to become a medium for philosophical exploration, Deleuze believed that filmmakers could use unique cinematic techniques to convey abstract concepts, emotions, and perceptions through "thought-images." This perspective expands cinema's potential to stimulate philosophical reflection and provoke new ways of thinking, making it a powerful tool for philosophical expression and exploration.


Figure 2: Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze (Unknown, n.d.).

On the other hand, in the late 1960s and 1970s, New German Cinema or "Neuer Deutscher Film", emerged as a response to the political and social climate of the german post-war. Filmmakers such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders explored themes of identity, historical guilt, and the effects of war and division; they also questioned the rejection towards themes of sexual expression, moral decline and existencial despair. Following the neorealist tradition, the films were characterized by their focus on everyday life and their rejection of classical Hollywood narrative techniques (Hedges & Bernstein, 1984). Truffaut noted that the New German Cinema introduced a new form of film language, in which the camera is no longer simply a recording apparatus but becomes an expressive entity in its own right. Some techniques included long takes, hand-held cameras and improvisation and while stylistic experimentation was for the German directors a way of creating a subjective perception, the desire to make films relevant to their social environment was the main goal (Hedges & Bernstein, 1984).


Like Neorealism, New German Cinema aimed for a more authentic representation of reality. One of the most remarkable facets of New German Cinema lies in its emphasis on author's direction who challenged the cinematic conventions of their time. Many films within the movement explored complex political and social themes, such as identity, alienation, the impact of history, and the struggle for individuality in a conformist society, these themes were often presented through allegorical storytelling, embracing diverse styles and approaches, from the gritty realism of Fassbinder's works to the poetic and surreal visions of Herzog or Wenders. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, with films like Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), introduced incisive social critique and narrative experimentation that questioned traditional norms.


This narrative experimentation opened up new perspectives on how cinema could address complex issues. Werner Herzog, on the other hand, gained prominence with visually striking and often surreal films such as Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982). His willingness to venture into remote locations to tell unique stories marked a milestone in filmmaking during that era, and his focus on exploring the darker aspects of human psychology influenced the aesthetics of his works. Wim Wenders, with films like Wings of Desire (1987), brought an introspective perspective to the movement, emphasizing the internal journeys of characters. His contemplative style and ability to explore the human condition from a more philosophical angle have left a lasting impact on contemporary cinematic narrative (Hedges & Bernstein, 1984). New German Cinema also served as a window into the exploration of German identity within the post-war and divided country context. These films addressed sensitive issues such as the aftermath of the Nazi past, the division between West and East Germany, and the quest for a new national identity. This deeply rooted cultural reflection within the movement made it an essential part of the discourse surrounding German history, were driven by a desire to confront Germany's past and engage with contemporary challenges, these filmmakers were often associated with leftist political movements and sought to challenge the status quo (Scales, 2012).


Figure 3: "Alice in the Cities" (Wenders, 1974).

Another vibrant and creative film industry was the one born in Iran as a consequence of the political and ideological repression by the regime: the Islamic revolution of 1979. Scholars pointed the strong similarity with the post-war Italian Neorealism, both wanted to show human narratives and it emerged in the 1960s and reached its peak in the 1980s and 1990s. Influenced by Neorealism's focus on social issues and everyday life, Iranian filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf or Majid Majidi followed the Neorealist tradition and created poetic and introspective works depicting the struggles and aspirations of ordinary people in Iran. This movement became known for its minimalist storytelling, contemplative pace, and exploration of socio-political themes within the constraints of a tightly controlled society (Weinberger, 2007). Post-revolutionary Iranian cinema has much in common with classical Italian neorealist films. It is interesting to analyze how Iranian filmmakers have found inspiration for shaping their ideas and a unique style.


The revolution on February 11, 1979 in Iran brought about a change in the nation's political machinery: it transitioned from a monarchy to an Islamist regime, significantly impacting the cinematic ecosystem. Many theaters were set on fire during the revolution, and the Islamist regime under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini imposed strict regulations. Many films that were previously considered normal were censored and categorized as obscene content under the regime (Weinberger, 2007). Clear rules for film production were not established in the first four or five years following the revolution. It was thanks to the establishment of the Farabi Film Foundation and the efforts of the Office of the Under Secretary for Cinematic Affairs of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in 1983 that film production began with a new set of norms and regulations (Ismail, 2015).

As Hamid Dabashi observes:


The first objection is the assumption that through any form of creative visual representation, imaginative faculties will prevail over reason. The second objection is based on the assumption that sustained reflection on visual representations of real things prevents us from examining the realities they represent. The third objection arises from the historical opposition of the Prophet of Islam to idolatry. Finally, the fourth objection is based on the belief that any act of creation that simulates the original creation of God is blasphemous. (Ismail, 2015)

Figure 4: "Downpour" (Beizai, 1971).

The former Czechoslovakian was another part of the world where neorealism left traces, filmmakers like Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel emerged with a movement that combined elements of surrealism, dark humor and political criticism giving birth to a new cinema was: The Czechoslovak New Wave. It blossomed during a period of relative political and cultural liberalization known as the Prague Spring, a brief period of reform in the mid-1960s allowed artistic freedom and expression (Košulicová, 2019). Filmmakers took advantage of this newfound creative space to explore unconventional and politically charged themes, they intertwined humor and tragedy through the manipulation of stylistic techniques that create a certain element of fantasy in order to produce more serious, experimental, and more socially critical films. They challenged the restrictions imposed by the communist regime through symbolic narratives and subversive storytelling, and it was also a way to criticize various aspects of Czechoslovak society, including the bureaucracy, conformity, and authoritarianism. Directors used satire and dark humor to explore these themes, often through allegorical or symbolic storytelling.


According to the Czech journalist Mira Liehm, neorealist films were often described in terms of film consciousness, and despite the differences among filmmakers, "all these artists, so unlike each other, brought to life a phenomenon with clearly defined technical and moral components that influenced almost all subsequent film trends in both the West and the East" (Liehm, 1984, p. 129). Describing the work of Roberto Rossellini, Liehm explains that what interested Italian directors was to have an impact on the viewer of the life represented in film; neorealism was "a moral weapon aimed at the artistic conventions of the past" (1984, p. 71). Some of the most celebrated films of the Czechoslovak New Wave include Closely Watched Trains (1966), directed by Jiří Menzel and winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and The Firemen's Ball (1967), directed by Miloš Forman. These films are known for their wit, social commentary, and artistic innovation.


Professor Ľubica Učník, in her article titled "Aesthetics or Ethics? Italian Neorealism and the Czechoslovak New Wave Cinema," highlights Václav Macek's assertion that, during the late 1950s, young filmmakers studying at the Film Academy in Prague, inspired by Italian neorealism's emphasis on social authenticity, decisively abandoned the rigid film conventions and socialist realism of earlier years. Instead, they sought to establish their creative autonomy, prioritize authenticity, originality, and adopt a more meaningful artistic perspective. The most important criteria became truthfulness, the desire to portray human emotions and conflicts rather than narratives defined by class and schematic sketches (2007, p. 64). In a certain sense, this claim is similar to Liehm's argument that Italian neorealism was a moral weapon used against artistic conventions of the past. All this movements: French Nouvelle Vague, the Czechoslovak New Wave, and Iranian cinema have in common the creation of a space by and for filmmakers to respect their ethical freedom, and its individuality in a overwhelming reality of globalization.


Figure 5: "Daisies" (Chytilová, 1966).

Neorealism was such a strong influence in the cinematic ecosystem that the wave arrived in South America, giving space to the born of a new Brazilian wave: Cinema Novo, led by directors like Glauber Rocha and Nelson Pereira dos Santos. During the 1960s, Brazil experienced a series of political crises, including the coup d'état of 1964, which installed a military dictatorship. This regime imposed strict censorship and cracked down on dissenting voices, for many artist cinema was a response, an answer to this oppressive political environment and filmmakers within the Cinema Novo movement saw their work as a form of resistance. They used their films to criticize the authoritarian government and to shed light on the human rights abuses and political corruption that were prevalent during this period (Skidmore, 2010).


It was also a cinematic rebellion against the conventional norms of storytelling: it shattered the glass ceiling of Hollywood aesthetics and embraced the raw, unfiltered essence of Brazilian society. They sought to create a new cinematic language that was more authentic and closer to real life. This led to the use of innovative techniques such as handheld cameras, documentary-style filming, non-linear narratives, and improvisation. These choices aimed to capture the raw, unfiltered essence of Brazilian society and challenge the formulaic and escapist nature of commercial cinema. It was a cinema with a purpose, unflinchingly depicting the nation's poverty, inequality, and the struggles of the marginalized.


Cinema Novo directors were deeply concerned about the erosion of Brazil's cultural identity in the face of globalizing influences, including the dominance of Hollywood cinema. They believed that by creating films that were distinctly Brazilian in their themes, aesthetics, and storytelling, they could help preserve and celebrate the nation's unique cultural heritage. This cultural emphasis was a reaction against what they perceived as the homogenizing effects of foreign cultural imperialism. Thanks to this perception, Cinema Novo marks an important moment in the history of Brazilian cultural productions, Brazilian films began to gain a consistent level of positive critical reception outside of Brazil (Skidmore, 2010). It incorporated Neorealism's emphasis on marginalized characters and employed poetic and metaphorical elements to critique social inequality and cultural imperialism, unprofesional actors where common in movies and they applied the use of 16mm cameras.


Figure 6: "Bye Bye Brazil" (Diegues, 1980).

Italian Neorealism, born from the ashes of World War II, indelibly marked the trajectory of global cinema. This transformative movement, characterized by its unwavering commitment to portraying the daily struggles of ordinary people through the lens of non-professional actors and real locations, stands as the catalyst for a multitude of future cinematic movements across the globe. The pourpose was to delve into the massive influence of Italian Neorealism on subsequent cinematic waves, notably the New Brazilian Wave (Cinema Novo), Czechoslovak cinema, New German Cinema, and the Iranian cinema wave. At its core, Italian Neorealism laid the sturdy groundwork for a novel narrative approach, one that fervently rejected the polished façade of Hollywood in favor of narratives that resounded with authenticity and social consciousness. This distinctive ethos struck a resonant chord with filmmakers hailing from diverse cultural backgrounds, all of whom sought to imbue their cinematic creations with their own unique perspectives.


In Brazil, the New Brazilian Wave, also known as Cinema Novo, wholeheartedly embraced Neorealism's tenets of authenticity and socio-political engagement. These filmmakers, inspired by the Italian Neorealists, transported viewers to unconventional settings with the use of non-professional actors and a narrative style that strayed from the well-trodden path of Hollywood conventions. Through their lens, they captured the very essence of Brazil's multifaceted identity and the relentless struggles of its populace. Czechoslovak cinema, in the 1960s, experienced a Neorealist revival with the advent of the Czechoslovak New Wave. Directors such as Miloš Forman and Jiří Menzel incorporated the Neorealist gaze into their creations, crafting films distinguished by their simplicity and genuine portrayal of life. Works like Closely Watched Trains offered audiences a glimpse into the everyday existence of Czechoslovak citizens, their stories laden with allegorical critiques of the oppressive political climate.


In Germany, the New German Cinema movement drew inspiration from Neorealism's advocacy for independent filmmaking and its unvarnished depiction of life's complexities. Visionaries like Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog challenged the status quo with films that explored intricate social and political themes, echoing the spirit of their Italian predecessors. In the case of Iran, the Iranian cinema wave, heralded onto the international stage during the 1980s and 1990s, bore the profound imprint of Neorealism's authenticity. Italian Neorealism's seismic impact on global cinema resounds across the ages. Its foundational principles, authenticity, socio-political engagement, and the audacious departure from conventional narrative forms, ignited the flames of creativity in diverse cinematic movements. The legacy of Neorealism endures, a testament to the timeless capacity of cinema to mirror the human experience and to kindle profound social discourse.


Bibliographical References

Brunetta, G. P. (2020). L'Italia sullo schermo. Come il cinema ha raccontato l'identità nazionale [Italy on screen. How cinema told national identity]. Carocci.


Brunette, P. (1996). Roberto Rossellini. University of California Press. Costa, A. (2021). Il Cinema Italiano [Italian Cinema] (2ª. ed.). Il Mulino. Catena, S. (2017). Dizionario del cinema italiano: Il Neorealismo [Dictionary of the Italian cinema: The Neorealism]. Guerra Edizioni.

Deleuze, G. (1987). La Imagen-Tiempo: Estudios sobre cine 2 [The Time-Image: Studies of cinema 2]. (Agof, I. Trans.). Ediciones Paidós. (Year of pubblication 1985).


Hedges, I., & Bernstein, J. (1984). History, Style, Authorship: The Question of Origins in the New German Cinema. Journal of Contemporary History, 19 (1), 171–187. Sage publications. Retrieved September 20th 2023 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/260430 Košulicová, D. (2019). The Czechoslovak New Wave. Edinburgh University Press. Lawton, B. (1979). Italian Neorealism: A Mirror Construction of Reality. Film Criticism, 3(2), 8–23. Retrieved September 18th, 2023 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/44018624. Perniola, I. (2004). Oltre il Neorealismo: Documentari d’autore e realtà italiana del dopoguerra [Beyond Neorealism: Documentaries by author and Italian reality after the war]. Bulzoni Editore. Sharma, M. (2008). NEOREALISM IN ITALIAN CINEMA: 1942-55. Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 69, 952–964. Retrieved September 19th, 2023 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/44147257

Scales, L. (2012). The Shaping of German Identity: Authority and Crisis, 1245–1414. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved September 20th, 2023 from doi:10.1017/CBO9780511980169.

Walsh, A. (2023). What is Italian Neorealism. Film History & Criticism. Perlego. Retrieved September 18th, 2023 from https://www.perlego.com/knowledge/study-guides/what-is-italian-neorealism/


Zavattini. C. (1979). Neorealismo ecc. [Neorealism ecc.]. Bompiani.

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