Italy has been at the forefront of filmmaking ever since the inception of the art form. When the Lumière Brothers presented their first public screening in Italy in 1896, locals were captivated by the potential of moving pictures as a medium for story-telling. And in Italy, those stories have often reflected the political turbulence and cultural movements that transformed the country during the 20th century.
For movie-lovers planning to study abroad in Rome, we offer a quick guide to some of the most influential moments in Italian film during the last 100 years.
The Rise of Italian Neorealism
During the Second World War, the Italian government funded filmmakers, using the medium to promote its pro-nationalist message. But the collapse of Mussolini’s regime and the economic toll of the war meant tough times for most of the country throughout the 1940s. Gradually, the camera shifted its focus away from idealized representations of Italy toward the struggles of the working class – and the Italian neorealist movement was born.
The Bicycle Thief: A Neorealist Must-see
Neorealist film was characterized by its use of non-professional actors, real-life (rather than staged) settings, and a focus on the impact of war and poverty on young children. These conventions play out beautifully in Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, a famous neorealist production that follows a father and son in their struggle to reclaim a lost bicycle – essential for the father’s new job. Hailed around the world as a masterpiece, and the winner of numerous prestigious awards, The Bicycle Thief resonated with viewers from all walks of life in its depiction of human suffering and social inequality. The film won an honorary Oscar in 1949 and routinely makes “top ten” lists of the best movies of all time.
Check out the inspiring trailer of the 1972 re-release:
The “Commedia all’italiana”
Another fundamental moment in Italian film history is the Commedia all’italiana (Comedy Italian Style), which gave the country’s film industry its most prosperous years. From the late 1950s to the end of the 1970s, directors such as Mario Monicelli, Luigi Comencini, and Dino Risi combined comedy and social criticism to point out the paradoxes in Italian society
Four-time Oscar winner Federico Fellini was one of the most celebrated and distinctive filmmakers of the period after World War II. After helping to inaugurate the neorealist movement, he soon developed his own unique, autobiographical style. His film La dolce vita is considered by many to be one of the important films ever made.
Sergio Leone and the Spaghetti Western Legacy
Students who study abroad in Italy might already know that Spaghetti Westerns represent an influential film movement that saw Italians and Americans join forces in movie-making. As the inventor of the genre, Roman born Sergio Leone might be one of the most celebrated Italian directors of the 20th century. Spaghetti Westerns, or “western all’italiana” were films made by Italian directors, crews and writers, which often cast a mix of both Italian and American actors. Leone’s Fistful of Dollars trilogy (featuring Clint Eastwood) remain some of the most successful of all Spaghetti Westerns, sparking a movement that would produce more than 600 films in nearly a decade.
Spaghetti Westerns pinned their success on a number of different factors, but one of the most striking was their ability to tell a vast array of stories. A single film could move from drama, to tragedy, and arrive at comedy with ease, taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Some of the great Italian Western directors include Sergio Corbucci, Ferdinando Baldi and Giulio Petroni.
Do you think attending university in Italy will inspire you to watch more Italian cinema? Do you already have a favorite Italian film?