In what ways does Italian Neorealism influence modern filmmaking practices

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Italy went through some of the biggest changes in its history in the early 20th century, around the time of war. Benito Mussolini founded the Fascist Party in 1919 and by 1924 he had already come to power and his dictatorship was in place. The fascist regime was accepted by many, but there were still a significant group of people who were against it. The fascists began using film as a propaganda tool, making the Italian film industry heavily censored and controlled. Movies known as “white-telephone” films would be sentimental melodramas, or historical epics.

Films supported by the regime were funded by the national bank, and were escapist vehicles, made to deflect the audience’s attention from the real issues of the day. The cinema industry was centralized, as the realities of fascist Italy were not shown from the biggest film studio, Cinecitta. However, Italian Neorealist cinema soon developed as many young new directors became keen to explore their own ideas, when the fall of fascism came in 1943. The new filmmakers wanted to create new depictions of life in post-war Italy, which mainly deals with issues of social inequality, and the emphasis on the every day man: the individual.

This is where Italian Neorealism was born. However, the movement was not only significant in the historical and ideological content, but to the new filmmaking practices and techniques involved. Many modern day directors are still influenced by Italian Neorealism, including highly regarded directors such as Tarantino or Scorsese. In fact, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver shows distinct similarities to Italian Neorealist cinema. Firstly, the film’s focus on characters and their emotions is comparable to INR films such as Bicycle Thieves, or Umberto D. Music is used to manipulate the audience in this way – reflecting Travis’s emotions and psychological state. This is seen in many of the taxi driving scenes, with the slow tedious jazz music showing his loneliness. This is comparable to scenes in both Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D, where the protagonists walk down the streets to the depressing, reflective music. It could be argued that this is also a widely popular Hollywood technique, making it difficult to directly say that the Italian Neorealist movement has had an effect on the filmmakers.

Other aspects of the film, such as the long takes with fluid camerawork are more alike to Italian Neorealist cinema. We see this many times in Taxi Driver, such as in the taxi office at the start of the film. Long takes are a noticeable quality in INR films, as seen for example in Bicycle Thieves when Ricci and Bruno are walking home past the tram – the scene is long and drawn out with a distinct lack of cuts. Long takes were used initially as more of a budget or time restraint solution, but as Taxi Driver did not have these problems it could be argued that the film’s use of the technique is a direct influence from INR cinema.

Having a central protagonist that guides the film is also a widely known characteristic of Italian Neorealist films. Taxi Driver has this, with Travis being almost a narrator figure who tells us his story. INR techniques such as this have not only reached Italian-American directors like Scorsese, but even Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles, director of “City of God”. The fluid camerawork, emphasis on realism, and main character narrator is typical of ‘new-wave’ films and Italian Neorealism. The handheld camera is used very often in City of God, seemingly to make it more documentary-style and realistic.

This is one of the core qualities of INR films, so there could definitely be an influence there. Of course, as City of God is a very fast-paced film, it could be argued that the handheld camera was used merely for convenience. Also, City of God is just so slick and polished that it could be argued that this deters from the realism of the picture and relies too much on shocking the audience to hold enough weight as a realistic depiction of life at the time. The use of location shooting makes this film more believable however, and is also a characteristic of INR films, such as Rome Open City.

Rome Open City was shot mainly on the streets of Rome and in blown out buildings, which gave it a sense of authenticity and this is the same with City of God, which was shot on location in South America. This is also a cheap solution of course, as it does not require the construction of a set, which would be less realistic anyway. The gritty and realistic setting gives the film a certain validity that is also apparent in Italian Neorealist films. City of God also used many non-professional actors, most of the children in the film actually came from the street, and were encouraged to improvise parts of the script.

One of the most noteworthy scenes in the film is the scene where the two kids must decide whether they want to be shot in the hand or the foot. The fact that these weren’t professional actors makes the picture far more realistic. The audio in the film is interesting since it has a great emphasis on diegetic sound, as do INR films. An example of this in City of God is the stand off between Ze’s gang and the protagonist at the end, where diegetic sound is amplified greatly. As this emphasizes the realism, it is very possible that the use of the technique is directly related to the Italian Neorealist movement.

The experimental and inventive camerawork seen in City of God is very French New-Wave, a movement which was greatly influenced by Italian Neorealism. “A Bout De Souffle” is a film that came out during the movement to great acclaim. While French New-Wave cinema bears certain similarities to INR, it is more unusual and alternative. The use of jump cuts is very noticeable, and highlights the experimentation of filmmaking techniques. An example of jump cuts in the film is when they are driving around Paris, and bizarrely during dialogue in a conversation.

While the technique isn’t necessarily used in classic Italian Neorealism films, the contemporary ideas are, along with the intention to deter from typical Hollywood techniques. Another similarity seen in the film is the use of long takes, lasting for lengths up to a few minutes. This is most noticeable in the hideout room where the camera is fixed to the ceiling watching the characters. Conversational dialogue, along with improvisation is also another key link to Italian Neorealism that can be made.

This is evident in A Bout De Souffle when in the diner the characters appear to switch between French and English. This intent on disorientating the audience is typical of French New Wave films. French New Wave does have certain stylistic techniques also seen in Italian Neorealism films, where techniques such as long takes and location shooting could have been used more as a result of the low budgets rather than experimentation. Of course, the ultimate similarity between the two movements is their non-reliance on Hollywood techniques and ambition to create an original national cinema.

It seems that the Italian Neorealist movement has influenced many different filmmakers across the globe. Different techniques have been used to different effects, and INR essentially began the movement to create films that are original and stand out from regular Hollywood films. All of the different developments of Italian Neorealism (e. g. French New Wave, Italian-American, Brazillian) can only be a good thing for countries wanting to make a definitive national cinema for themselves.

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