It doesn’t get much better than this…..the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which presents the New York Film Festival each Fall, is in the midst of a revelatory review of one of the major film movements of the 20th century, presenting a list of acknowledged classics along with previously unknown (at least to me) gems. ITALIAN NEOREALISM AND THE BIRTH OF MODERN CINEMA is an exhaustive look at the cinema that flourished in Italy in the post-war period and that still remains a high point of film’s desire to capture the reality of the moment on screen.
Organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Cinecittà Luce and the Fondazione Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia-Cineteca Nazionale, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Culture – Film Department and the Italian Consulate General, the program of 40 films runs from October 30 to November 25 at the Society’s flagship Walter Reade Theater.
In 1945, with Europe in ruins, an unlikely but compelling revolution was taking place in the rubble-strewn landscapes of Italy. A group of films that were soon dubbed Italian Neorealism offered a very different kind of cinema than Italy or the world had ever seen before, drawing on the harsh deprivations and moral complexities of the times. Filmmakers, newly liberated from the grip of Fascism, used their limited resources to capture an indelible moment in time. Using real locations, available light, non-professional actors, and presenting stories of moral courage and depravity, these cinema revolutionaries created a new template that eventually influenced Hollywood and world cinema, while also giving artistic impetus to independent filmmakers around the globe to simply “go out and do it”.
Some of the titles are perennially listed as the greatest films ever made: OPEN CITY, BICYCLE THIEVES, PAISAN, UMBERTO D….films that still pack extraordinary power due to the vibrancy of the performances, the boldness of the stories, the innate humanity that survives in the most unlikely of circumstances. These humanist qualities combined with a spare modernist storytelling style not only influenced the filmmakers of the 1940s and 1950s, but their resonance carries through today.
What this ambitious program makes clear is that aside from the well-known classics from such iconic filmmakers of the period as Robert Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittoria De Sica, the film movement known as Neorealism included impressive achievements from such talents as Alberto Lattuada, Renato Castellani, and Giuseppe De Santis, while also providing cinematic training for such masters Pietro Germi, Federico Fellini, Ermanno Olmi, Francesco Rosi, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. And aside from the directors’ triumphs, the era fed such indelible acting talents as Anna Magnani, Silvia Mangano, Gina Lollabrigida, Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi, Marcello Mastroianni and, most scandalously, Ingrid Bergman (who turned her back on a Hollywood career to follow the voyage to Italy with future husband Rossellini).
The series includes among its themes: life during wartime (a traumatic period that remains specific and universal at the same time), the roots of the Italian gangster film (that still flourishes to this time with such recent triumphs as GOMORRAH) and a very specific type of Italian low comedy (with more than a snippet of social satire). Like a good Italian meal, this series tempts the palate and invites the filmgoer to devour more (or consider a $99 series ticket for a full Italian course). For more information on the series, visit the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s website: www.filmlinc.com