Saturday, August 23, 2008

Vittorio de Sica, neorealism, and American film

Finally saw "Bicycle Thieves" by Vittorio de Sica. The film is the landmark accomplishment of Italian neorealism, a movement that started after the Second World War that depended on non-professional actors acting in roles similar to those that they occupied in real life and attempted to portray stories associated with the everyday life of folks. De Sica's film is something that really deserves something beyond a brief blog post, but I'll note that it's the only European film that I've seen that so exactly portrays the everyday reality of life that it rivals American realist cinema, a movement not realized as such because it's integrated into our normal sense of what cinema is. Like neorealism, which the directors no doubt studied or were at least exposed to in film school, American realist cinema attempts to portray everyday life, although the subjects aren't necessarily working class individuals, which are the focus of neorealist films coming out of Italy.

The best example of an American realist film that I can think of is Coppola's original Godfather. Even though it deals with a fantastic subject, a major crime boss in an Italian community who also figures as kind of an elder, it's pretty straightforward in its telling of the story, including details that it wouldn't have to include if it was just going to be a sensational film about a gangster. Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese is another one that's close to the spirit of the neorealists, not surprising in that Scorsese's "Mean Streets" chronicles his life as a low level employee of gangs in Little Italy, New York, in a painfully realistic fashion. Scorsese has been much more loyal to the neorealist idea throughout his career than de Palma has.

Part of the appeal of "Bicycle Thieves" is that it breaks through the didacticism common among European film makers of the time, something that occasionally makes their films lack depth even though they're made with a high concept in mind. In this area "Bicycle Thieves" goes much farther than "Rome,Open City" by Roberto Rosselini which although a good film, about partisan activity at the end of World War II, is still pretty heavy handed on the part of the auteur, although at the same time much more realistic than other films coming out.

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