It’s embarrassing, what I don’t know about Neorealism; it’s a tragedy what I didn’t know about what came before it. David Morea’s stunning documentary, Before Neorealism: Italy’s Forgotten Cinema made me wake up and smell the espresso and that what I’ve always assumed, World War II + poverty and sadness = Neorealism in cinema is not even close to the whole story.
“Neorealism represents a reaction to the cinema that proceeded it: the Cinema of Fascism”, explains NYU professor Stefano Albertini. “Keeping in mind”, he continues,”that most of the great actors of Neorealism had been very active as actors and directors in Fascism”.
World renowned scholars Stefano Albertini, Mino Argentieri, Carlo Montanaro, Vito Zagarrio and Alberto Zambenedetti tell us about Italy’s “other”, less talked about cinematic golden era with movie clips and archival footage. They explain how Mussolini and Fascism actually gave the Italian film industry its backbone, creating Cinecittà and Istituto Luce, (“L’ Unione Cinematografica Educativa”), the Educational Film Union created in 1924. The regime’s unholy alliance with filmmakers served to manipulate public opinion with entertaining propaganda, but it also served to create a cinematic structure that exists to this day.
“During the 1930s”, says Oberlin College professor Alberto Zambenedetti, “we see a whole new generation of actors come forward that have a quality with leads that were comparable to the leads in Hollywood cinema in the ’30s, very glossy, good-looking, and fun to look at (like Vittorio De Sica and Anna Magnani).
Filmmakers and lawmakers decided that the propaganda didn’t have to come with a “black shirt”, and the more subtle messages made the bigger impact.
In his inaugural speech, Mussolini said that “cinema was the regime’s most powerful weapon”, and the big question is, “Weapon against whom?”
If you think you understand what Neorealism is all about, think again. After all, explain the scholars, Neorealism didn’t appear out of nowhere, and its birth didn’t immediately signal the death of the film style of the Fascist Era. Before Neorealism is an excellent opportunity to learn more about Italy, its history, its people, and its art.
Before Neorealism: Italy’s Forgotten Cinema is one of the wonderful films that Italian Film Festival USA is bringing to cities across America right now FOR FREE AND WITH SUBTITLES, and you can see it for yourself tomorrow (April 9) in Indianapolis, and in these cities:
Cleveland: April 14, 7:00 p.m.
St. Louis: April 16, 6:30 p.m.
Chicago: April 20, 2:00, p.m.
Milwaukee: April 24, 3:30 p.m.
Dallas: April TBA, p.m.
Alberto Zambenedetti will be at the Cleveland screening to answer some of your questions and tell you a bit more.