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Zumwalt, Matthew Emery
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Middle Tennessee State University
ABSTRACT In Neorealism’s Wake: The Italian Cinema of Reconstruction Matthew Zumwalt Studies of Italian post-war cinema have traditionally relied on a historiography that divides the field into two categories: neorealist and post-neorealist. This enduring periodization has allowed for rhetorical distinctions between the pure neorealist aesthetic of the immediate post-war period and the various auteurist styles that developed in neorealism’s wake. While this dichotomy acknowledges differences between the spartan productions of the late 1940’s and the more elaborate, often set-bound pictures of the 1960’s, the tendency to valorize these specific periods has underplayed important dimensions of Italian cinema in the 1950’s. This study demonstrates that the early films of five now-celebrated directors bear the mark of the country’s reconstruction while also engaging the complex discourse of neorealist aesthetics and filmmaking practices that have come to dominate the study of Italian cinema. Each of five chapters focuses on two films that share thematic and artistic resonances, subjecting them to interpretations that foreground historical and material circumstances affecting Italy’s new republic at mid century. Chapter one examines the relationship between Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (1943), an unauthorized adaptation of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) that is often treated as a proto-neorealist text, and Michelangelo Antonioni’s debut film, Cronaca di un Amore (1950), which recapitulates noir tropes in the post-war period. Chapter two pairs Visconti’s Senso (1954) and Le Notti Bianche (1957) to demonstrate how the director’s experiments in romantic decadence and modern minimalism continue his neorealist engagement with the material realities of Italian life in both historical and contemporary settings. Chapter three focuses on two well-know films by Federico Fellini, La Strada (1954) and Le Notti di Cabiria (1957), to show how Fellini’s belief in redemption shapes his portraits of the Italian populace in the mid 1950s. Chapter four pairs Michelangelo Antonioni’s final films of the decade, Le Amiche (1955) and Il Grido (1957), to determine the ways in which stylistic and thematic idiosyncrasies attributed to Antonioni’s masterpieces of the 1960’s are prefigured in these earlier works, along with the subtle ways in which Antonioni represents crises of gender in two disparate social milieus. Chapter five moves to the early 1960s with Pier Pasolini’s first films, Accattone (1961) and Mamma Roma (1962), two depictions of subproletarian life in the neglected, improvised slums surrounding Rome known as the borgate. This chapter highlights the means by which Pasolini reappropriates neorealist corporealism in his construction of human bodies excluded from Rome’s then-booming economy.
Antonioni, Cinema, Fellini, Film Studies, Italian Cinema, Neorealism, Film studies