Download the worksheet here: Neorealism handout

Way back during the first week of class we talked about the three main types of filmmaking: Realism, Classicism, and Formalism. Now, thinking of everything we’ve seen since then, where would you classify them? Pretty much everything was along the lines of classicism, with the occaisional foray into formalism. Maybe The Grapes of Wrath is on the realism side, but that was the rare exception for Hollywood.

But after World War II things started to change. Before the war, Italy was one of the most prolific and influential filmmaking countries. They specialized in huge budget epic films, with giant sets and thousands of actors. But during the war, Italy was occupied by the Germans, then the Americans, and was pretty much torn up by all the fighting. After the war, there weren’t any usable studios, the big name actors had all left, and there was very little money for film equipment. So the filmmakers took to the streets and made simple stories about the struggles of everyday people. This movement later on became known as Neo-realism.


Here’s two chapters from Martin Scorsese’s documentary about Italian Cinema called “My Voyage to Italy.”

Voyage to Italy1

Voyage to Italy2

As you can see, these early Italian films had a huge impact on Scorsese, both as a person and a filmmaker. When Roberto Rosselini’s film Rome, Open City came out in 1945, it opened the eyes of a lot of potential filmmakers. They realized that to make a film you didn’t need a huge budget and special effects and big name actors. You could make stories about your own life experiences with very little money.

Here's a few more examples:

The Bicycle Thief

Children of Heaven

Not One Less

Nobody Knows 



Some characteristics of Neo-realism:


  1. Set in the Present (or near-past). This means that in Italy in 1945-49 there were a lot of films that took place during or right after WWII.
  2. Non-professional actors. They used regular people that hadn’t acted in film before.
  3. Shot on already existing locations. No studios or sets.
  4. Stories about everyday situations and people, the kinds of things most people at the time could relate to.
  5. Often bleak, somewhat pessimistic, dealing with hardship and poverty.
  6. Open endings. Not a tragedy where everyone dies. Not a “happy ending” where they achieve their goals. But a frustating ending where we don’t know what’s going to happen.