Roberto Rossellini and his Italian Cinema: The Search for Realism

by Karen Arnone
Toward the end of the second World War, when the air raid sirens ceased to scream and enemy bombs ceased to fall, Italy awoke to find itself enveloped in crime and social unrest. Seizing the energy of a free society, one without the repressive controls of a dictator, film makers set out to record and document the rebirth of Italian society. The morose reality was recorded by the cameras of visionary film makers who found enough inspiration within their dismal atmosphere to create a new stylistic approach to film making: Neorealism.

Quite often, Italian Neorealism is considered a phenomenon which exploded onto the cinema scene when the Fascist regime fell, giving Italian film makers the artistic freedoms which were denied to them for over 20 years. It is commonly regarded as a smooth break from the repressive Fascist era. Neorealism's prescription for cinematic realism, set forth by film scholars and critics, called for the use of non-professional actors, regional dialects, current subject matter, authentic locations, documentary aspects, and the use of the film as a social statement. In 1945, Roberto Rossellini was hailed "The Father of Neorealism" with his first international success "Rome, Open City" which was consistent with the neorealist prescription. His next two movies, "Paisan" and "Germany, Year Zero" likewise did the same. However, the similarities between Rossellini's realism and that defined by the mainstream end here.

First, Rossellini's interest in the portrayal of realism was deeply rooted within the Fascist cinematic era in which he was trained by truly Fascist film makers and government officials. Apparently there was not a smooth break between the Fascist and the Neorealist eras. Second, he vehemently rebelled against critics, scholars, political figures and other film makers who tried to set and force others to follow guidelines as to what elements were necessary to portray reality. The tension between these two sides, which ran particularly height in post-war period to the early 1950's, caused Rossellini's popularity with the mainstream audience and critics to plummet substantially. One writer even wrote, "To change one's profession in certain circumstances is, without doubt, the wisest thing one can do," suggesting that Rossellini get out of the film business (Films 98). Even though, with each consecutive film, the ticket sales steadily decreased, Rossellini continued to forge ahead in the development of his own personal portrayal of truth and realism, a movement which, though contrary to that of the mainstream, was important in shaping post-war cinema. Therefore, in order to show how his personal conception of truth and reality evolved within these high-tension years, it is essential to look at the evolution of these realistic aspects within his films from 1941 to 1953, apart from the interference of mainstream recommendations and criticisms.

Roberto Rossellini: Early Life and Experiences

Other Links:


Rossellini's Early Films

The Cinema Under Mussolini

The Fascist Trilogy (1941 - 1944)

The Fascist Trilogy: Realism in the Story Line

The Neorealist Trilogy (1945 - 1947)

Concept of Rossellini's Neorealist Trilogy: The Neorealist Prescription

Rossellini's Transitional Films

Rossellini's Transitional Films: A Step Toward A New Reality

The Trilogy of Solitude

The Trilogy of Solitude: A Look At Psychological Realism

The Evolution of the Concept of Reality in Rossellini's Works