Cinema was a business before it was even an art, yet, it was brought to that type of industry-driven concept thanks to Hollywood. This means that not all cinema was originally money-driven, especially the one that came directly from Europe.
Cinema was created by the Lumiére brothers back in the last years of the nineteenth century, and since its creation as a cutting-edge and interesting way of presenting images, it has been used as a way of making money by creating art, until it was brought to different parts of the world, from Germany and other countries which gave it a lot more important as an art than a business, like Italy.
Italy is nowadays a really important part of the movie industry, and not because it gives value directly, but because of most filmmakers today no matter where they come from, are, without a doubt, influenced by Italian cinema since its beginning to even the Post-Modern creation. And that’s why it is so important to know how it has developed through time.
Italian Neorealism: The Beginning
In Europe, cinema was mostly used as a way to create art, and with this art came new movements like the Neorealism, a movement started with the whole purpose of giving cinema a new type of sense – a movement that was mostly taken by Italian filmmakers as a revival of true happenings.
The harshest truth, just as the Realist literary movement did, was normally portrayed in order to give a sense of awareness and to give names to the world full of wonder but awfully destroyed by hard times.
The most notable filmmakers of this era were Rossellini, Visconti and Sica, the ones who started it in some way and the ones who gave it so important to the Italian cinema we know nowadays.
Yet, in contrast with what see today in cinema, neorealism was based in showing everything people were not used to seeing, with real locations, real people and often, portraying real events about the lowest human states, especially about everything that was happening around the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.
The first glance we had of Neorealism was from Visconti with “The Earth Trembles” a movie he wrote and directed with the help of Vittorio Mussolini, the son of Benito Mussolini. They went for cinema as a way of creating a different type of art that wouldn’t get censored. And with this movie, Visconti filmed real fishermen of Sicily in order to see their struggles in an economy driven by capitalism that wasn’t working so well. Yet, it was his second film, “Obsession” which gave him the title of the founder of neorealism. This film was actually remade in Hollywood three years later.
Then, we came to see Rossellini’s works, the first of it was named “Roma, Open City” a movie written in part by Federico Fellini, another master of Italian cinema and founder, alongside Rossellini and Visconti of the Neorealism. This film was used as an excuse to give worldwide recognition to Italian cinema, giving the movie the Best Adapted Cinema Academy Award. The movie was about the Nazi regime and its impact on Italy.
Then, Rossellini and Fellini worked again in the movie “Paisa” a year later, giving yet another Academy Award nomination and putting Neorealism in the focus. It was also about the secondWorld War and the Allied Invasion of Italy.
But the movie that later became the true sign of Neorealism was “The Bicycle Thieves” from the hands of Vittorio de Sica. This movie, winning Best Foreign Film in the Oscars and the BAFTAs, is remembered as a simplistic story which gave the world an idea of how Italy in the post-war was like. The story about a son and a father looking for the kid’s stolen bike had everything it needed to become a masterpiece. And so it did, becoming the best symbol of Neorealism allowing future filmmakers to follow the same path.
Italian Post-Modernism: How Cinema Developed
After Neorealism, Italian cinema became increasingly isolated in the world due to Hollywood creating more and more businesses from Cinema, letting the art of filmmaking apart by most Hollywood filmmakers and giving all of this weight to the Italians.
But it didn’t mean that Italian cinema was seemingly disappearing, it was just a way of knowing that it had to develop itself, to transform its purpose and to give a new sense of meaning to its creation so it could become big again, as in the old Golden Neorealist times.
And that was what happened. Italian cinema was transformed into a new type of cinema, using anew type of filmmaking techniques, telling new and different stories, making an industry that was dying the literal top-notch influences of the world.
Here we can talk about many creators like Roberto Benigni, who with his wonderful acting career alongside Jim Jarmusch and his neorealist influence thrive to create wonderful movies which later became Benigni inspiration to come with comedy gold and tragic heart-warming filmmaking like “Life is Beautiful” in 1997. He won Best Actor, Best Music from Nicola Piovani’s score and making the movie win the Best Foreign Language.
But those who gave this new film movement the real sense it deserved were Fellini with “Fred” and “Ginger”, ErmannoOlmi with “The Tree of Wooden Clogs”, “The Night of San Lorenzo” from Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, “The Table is Ready” from NanniMoretti; movies which came as an evolution of Neorealism, trying to show a new type of real life events in a more dramatic and fictional way, giving space to what it later became the Post-Modern Italian cinema.
The Post-Modern cinema was, actually, given life by Bernardo Bertolucci’s, a filmmaker who won 9 Oscars in his career with movies like “1900”, “The Conformist”, “The Last Emperor” and everything that came after that. Others Post-modern creators like Sergio Leone, for example, were also really important, especially for his westerns like “Once Upon a Time in America” the Dollars Trilogy “Once Upon a Time in the West”, “For A Few Dollars More” and “For Fistful of Dollars”.
All these filmmakers worked in a time of crisis, sort of. Yet they found the best way to transform their cinema from its roots and give it a new sense, a new purpose that was taken wonderfully in the world and that even nowadays still influences many.
The Italian Cinema of Today: A New Path for Storytelling
Even though Roberto Benigni, Giuseppe Tornatore, and even Nanni Moretti’s films fit better in Post-Modernism than in the cinema of today, they were the creators of such masterpieces that we can still see their works in the creations of others, and their own films getting to influence a lot of people. And their storytelling is still seen today and the beginning of a new Italian Cinema era.
Cinema Paradiso, for example, was a movie that without a doubt gave a great example to the worldwide industry on how great cinema should be. The Son’s Room from Moretti was a masterpiece in filmmaking as well, and Life is Beautiful from Benigni was the start of a new Italian era that started wonderfully in 1998.
Gabriele Salvatores, FerzanÖzpetek, Marco TullioGiordana, Cristina Comencini and many others started creating films in which the main theme – life and everything in its entirety, with a more dramatic element and much more imagination than the past Italian cinema, were the creators of the last decade.
Nowadays, Paolo Sorrentino, Matteo Garrone, Gianfranco Rosi, Claudio Caligari, Paolo Genovese and even Stefano Sollima had given Italian cinema a new sense, a new purpose and a new, otherwise unknown fame, which getting the best talent and new aspects of their creations have traveled around the world and left their mark, getting the best inspiration from nowadays geopolitical problems like corruption, to more nihilistic themes or even artistic blockbusters about love and life which are still giving the industry of cinema a new type of sense that without Italian imagination we were never going to experience.
The storytelling of today’s Italian filmmaking is so different yet so similar to its roots, that it is impossible to be unimpressed. It has been transformed into a new type of cinema, modern and stylistic, yet still so traditional and realist that, without a doubt, is a type of cinema we can’t miss.