1 Neo-realism

Neo-Realism is a film movement that emerged in Italy after WWII.  Shaped by the prevailing anti-fascist sentiment, the films focused on real life stories, on communities rather than individuals and solidarity was one of the  most important values championed by these film’s stories.  These films were “made in the streets, not in the studio.”  The Neo-realist directors – Roberto Rossellini and Vitorio de Sica, among them–favoured using non-professional actors and actual locations over stars and studio sets.  Research on this subject should address the political, economic and technological factors contributing to the development of this movement.


  • Cahiers du Cinema, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985 (library)
  • Jack C. Ellis and Virginia Wright Wexman, “Postwar Italy: Neorialism and Beyond, 1945-“ in A History of Film, 5th ed. Gonsont: Allyn and Bacon, 2002.
  • Charles T. Samuels, “Cinema in the Sixties,” American Libraries, Vol. 2. No. 5 (May, 1971)
  • Maria San Filippo, “A Cinema of Recession,” Cineaction, 2011

On-line Materials + PDFs

Neo-Realism Wiki

Ellis + Wexman_Postwar Italy-Neorealism and Beyond

Charles T. Samuels_Cinema in the Sixties

Thoughts on Italian Neo-Realism

Martin Scorsese and Neo-Realism

Cinema of Recession…Mumblecore..

Discussion Prompts:

  • Neo-realist films  focus on collective rather than individual experiences, with the main conflict in the stories resulting from historical circumstances affecting the many rather than from problems besetting any one individual. Thus, the Neo-realist predisposition for mid to long range shots  and long takes expresses this collective-minded orientation, situating individual subjects within groups and collective spaces, and allowing the story to unfold in ‘real time’ through ‘natural’ conversations between ‘real people’.   But every one of these films has a central protagonist who functions as a hero within the group and none of the films completely dispense with scripts, trained actors, dramatic lighting or close framing.  How real is Neo-realist cinema?  Do the exceptions to earlier modes of cinematic representation outweigh those characteristics identified as new-realism?  Discuss with reference to scenes from de Sica’s The Bicycle Theif or Rossellini’s Rome: Open City, below.
  • Martin Scorsese has claimed that the kinds of stories he tells and the way in which he tells them are directly influenced by the Neo-realist films that he saw as a boy.  Yet Scorsese grew up in North America, far from the country that was home to this film movement and with very few exceptions his stories are about American people and American-made situations.  Though he does use long shots and long takes and has been known to resort to improvisation in his films, he is also well versed in the standards of the Continuity system set by and used in Hollywood.  How do Scorsese’s films exhibit the influence of the Neo-realist movement?  How do they differ?  How has the historical and geographical context shaped this work differently.  Discuss with reference to Mean Streets or Whose that Knocking below.
  • Mumblecore is the name of a new genre of film said to emulate the characteristics of neo-realism.  Dubbed neo-neo-realism, the new genre displays many of that earlier movements characteristics but focuses its action on the lives and times of today’s youth.  How is the social and economic context of World War II Europe  translated in these films?  Are the issues addressed as relevant to today’s audience as they might have been to the audience of the neo-realist film?  How so?