Neorealism


Neorealism
   The goal of neorealist writers and artists was to represent ordinary working-class life faithfully and find poetry in the lives of the poor and oppressed. This emphasis on working-class experience was influenced by the theories of the communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci,who believed that culture in Italy had always been hegemonized by the elite and that the communist movement needed to produce a “national-popular” literature of its own. The neorealists were also influenced by the sometimes grim realism of American writers such as John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and John Dos Passos.
   Among the film directors who worked in the neorealist idiom were Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, and Luchino Visconti. These directors used ordinary citizens in preference to established actors, allowed the use of dialect instead of literary Italian, and set their films in working-class settings. The main subject matter of neorealist novels and reportage was working-class and peasant life during the war and the resistance to the Nazis. Carlo Levi, Primo Levi, Italo Calvino, and Cesare Pavese are four remarkable writers on these themes.
   Many of the leading intellectuals associated with neorealism were socialists or communists, but almost without exception they found the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI) too insistent in its demands that their realism be transformed into socialist realism, that is, propaganda. The short-lived neorealist literary periodical Il Politecnicowas soon the target for ideologically motivated attacks by the leader of the PCI, Palmiro Togliatti, and by the PCI’s stable of politically orthodox critics and scholars. Il Politecnico was all but boycotted by the PCI and its sympathizers and had to close in 1947.
   By the early 1950s, the best neorealist artists were chafing at the genre’s limits. Rossellini and Visconti increasingly made visually beautiful films with psychological themes set (often) in upper-class settings. Pavese’s last novel before his suicide, La Luna e i falo (The Moon and the Bonfires, 1950), was introspective and nostalgic in tone. Calvino increasingly became a favolista, or writer of fables. Few of the Italian writers and directors of the first rank who emerged in the 1950s were neorealist in approach. For all neorealism’s limits, however, in the hands of its finest artists, the suffering, poverty, and endurance of the Italian working class was transmuted into artistic form.
   See also Cinema; Literature.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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