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Non-Professional Actors in Neorealism

Italian neorealism is a film movement that emerged in Italy towards the end of World War II. The first Neorealist film is often said to be Luchino Visconti's Ossessione (1943). However, it only achieved international attention with Roberto Rossellini's Roma, città aperta (1945). Important neorealist directors include Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti and Giuseppe De Santis.

Italian Neorealist films are a product of the economic and social crisis that Italy was undergoing at the end of World War II. They focus on everyday life against the backdrop of political and social issues in post-war Italy.

Italian Neorealism can be contrasted stylistically both with the Classic Hollywood Narrative as well as contemporary Italian genres such as the 'White Telephone' melodramas and romantic films. In technical areas, Neorealism tried to reduce the role of editing. Shooting usually took place on location, rather than in a studio as was common. Long and medium shots were used extensively, with fewer close-ups. Natural lighting was preferred. While some of these were stylistic choices, they were sometimes forced upon directors by budgetary constraints, studios damaged during the war and the lack of film stock.

In terms of plots, Neorealism films focused on contemporary social issues. They focused on the poor, working class in Italy, rather than the rich, as was common in White Telephone films. They often had strong political undertones that were highlighted in the plot. Instead of contrived, 'Hollywood' endings that were so prevalent, Neorealist films had realistic endings that did not present facile solutions to deeper issues.

At the same time, Neorealism does not imply an absolute dedication to replicating the real world.

At the end of the film. most neorealist films borrow heavily from Hollywood genre films such as the melodrama. and even musicals. Italian Neorealism goes completely against this. in Marcus 22). traditional Italy. rather than the 'American Dream'. It may be argued that a more defining character of neorealism might be the common moral statement to . In other words. Bicycle Thieves has intricate editing patterns mixed in with neorealist long-takes. capable of no wrong and a symbol of the patriarchy. myself and the others and said: 'now let's create neorealism. Rossellini. It should be noted that neorealism was a term given to a group of films with similar characteristics after they were made. As a result no single neorealist film will have every characteristic mentioned. (Bordwell et al. without overemphasizing the mundane. For example. Central to this is the lack of a 'hero' and the use of non-professional actors throughout neorealist films. It focuses on community. Visconti.Instead. which is disturbed. the initial state of equilibrium is restored. The Classic Hollywood Narrative is based on the actions of the (usually male) protagonist. the plot structure is as follows: there is an initial state of equilibrium. The male protagonist confronts the world to solve this problem and save his community.'” (qutd. although they act against type. He is the 'hero' of our film and all other characters are merely 'supporting roles'. 18-19) We are meant to strongly identify with this male protagonist. He is usually a model of virtue. Piasan makes use of professional actors. The entire focus of the film is on this hero. family or loved ones. Complete realism is sacrificed so that the essential details can be focused upon. the action film. In fact. As De Sica says “It is not that one day we sat down at a a table on Via Veneto. it seeks to represent the essence of life. In general. rather than an individual. Film Noir.

when producer Carl Laemmle realized that audiencees went to films mainly based on the actors in them. No detail of a stars life was too unimportant or too private. These young actors would be given new names.“promote a true objectivity – one that would force viewers to abandon the limitations of a strictly personal perspective and to embrace the reality of the 'others. rather than based upon the plot or anything else. The star system thrived for the next few decades and said to have died only with the end of the studio system in the early 1960s.” (Marcus 23). One of the key contrasts between Neorealism and the Classic Hollywood Narative is the importance of actors.' be they persons or things. almost as if they knew them personally. backgrounds. This gave audiences a sense of continuity from film to film. It involved big studios taking young actors and turning them into 'stars'. The Hollywood Star System started in the early 1920s. This allowed audiences to be able to relate to the stars. In short. (Cook 36-40) The Star system was often quite limiting to actors. The Hollywood Star system was at the very heart of the Classic Hollywood Narrative. both in films and in public. Movies would be marketed. with all the ethical responsibility that such a vision entails. they were given a character and would constantly be playing this character. unless it might negatively impact the public's perception. The stars would often play a similar type of character in most of their movies. with actors such as Florence Lawrence and Mary Pickford. personalities etc. between the Star system of Hollywood and and the non-professional actors so prevalent in Neorealism. who were never allowed to play roles outside their . and funding gained based on the stars in the film. Publicity was the main tool of the studios.

There are many different reason for this. Protagonists in noerealist films often have many faults. For example. Paradoxically. multifaceted and morally ambiguous human beings. There is no place for a Hollywood style hero in the world of neorealism. We can identify with their ordinariness. and the harshness of the world around them. Instead of building movies around stars. Open City. Producers or even the actors themselves might demand that changes be made so that audiences would not feel alienated. Thus the star system could force directors to alter their vision.designated character. as will be seen. It also hampered directors who were often forced to adjust plots of films based on the star that was performing in it. based upon the whims of audiences. in Alfred Hitchcock' Supsicion (1941). this means that characters often represented entire social groups or classes. One important aspect of these films is that they allow us to sympathize with characters that are neither heroic nor honorable. Hollywood or Italian stars would be a distraction in Neorealist films. The focus is taken away from the problems of an individual and is placed on the broader social issues of an entire class class. on the other hand went in the completely opposite direction. Don Pietro Pellegrini represents the church. in Rome. intervened for fear that audiences would not accept Grant in such a negative role and the ending of the film was altered (Spoto 243-44). Pina the ordinary woman and Marina the collaborator. the studio. For example. . they removed any trace of stars from the films by casting non-professional actors or by casting against type. Thus the use of non-professional actors in neorealism allowed character to be well rounded. Characters often represent not extraordinary individuals but everyday humans. However RKO. Neorealist films. Cary Grant's character was originally the villain – the unfaithful husband who finally poisons his wife. rather than crude stereotypes.

Lianella Carell. De Sica received an offer from David O. who needs his bicycle for his job. (Bertellini 43-44). Although Cary Grant had excelled at playing roles similar to that of Ricci. When his bicycle is stolen. De Sica hid cigarette stubs in the boys jacket and then accused him of smoking (Bertellini 44). De Sica turned down the offer and produced the film himself. The protagonist Antonio Ricci is played by a Lamberto Maggiorani. Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948) is a story of Antonio Ricci. To make him cry in a particular scene. Bicycle Thieves made extensive use of non-professional actors. Maria. Politically. This is especially the case of Enzo Staiola. Selznick's only condition was that Cary Grant should play the role of Ricci (Bertellini 43). In the end. the importance of non-professional actors to neorealism is best illustrated in Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) and La Terra Trema (The Earth Trembles). Selznick. . he would not have been able to portray the character as effectively as Lamberto Maggiorani for a number of reasons. However. Bicycle Thieves is best described as antiestablishment. the church . His wife.The use of non-professional actors is quite common in neorealist films. Because of the lack of acting experience from most of the cast. he spends the day wandering around Rome with his son Bruno. was played by a journalist. While seeking a producer for the film. the labor unions. the actor who played Bruno. De Sica had to sometimes use unusual methods to get the desired response from an actor. a steel mill worker who De Sica found when the former's son was auditioning for the role of Bruno. on an ultimately fruitless search for the stolen bicycle. De Sica shows how Ricci is not helped by any figure of authority – the police.

would not allow Bicycle Thieves to achieve this. He is an irresponsible father. by his very presence. who are exploited by wholesalers. that truly represent Italy of that time because he is one of them. as an outsider. Luchino Visconti uses the inhabitants of the real Aci Trezza throughout the movie. could never have done this. Cary Grant. as she tries to carry water back to their house. working-class men.Antonio Ricci behaves in many ways that we would not accept from a 'heroic' character. Luchino Visconti's The Earth Trembles (1948) tells the story of a poor community of fishermen in a town called Aci Trezza. Bicycle Thieves is an ordinary story about ordinary people. For example. He has to mortgage his family house in order to finance this. regardless of his performance. Antonio Valastro is a young but ambitious fisherman who decides to buy his own boat and sell his fish directly in the markets. He later hits his son. The film chronicles the breaking up of the family and Antonio's eventual return to the wholesalers. he wished to “find the element of drama in daily situations” (Marcus p 55). Furthermore. rather than just play him as a character. early on in the film he allows his wife to struggle. instead of helping her. Even more than this. he is able to represent an entire class of ordinary. Maggiorani's obscure background and his common look allowed him to be Ricci. Antonio is played . who gives his son alcohol instead of apologizing. Audiences would have struggled to reconcile Ricci's anti-heroic behavior with the kind of character that Cary Grant usually plays. According to De Sica. neither heroic nor villainous. showing the exploitation of the working class at the hands of the boat owners. His venture fails when his boat is sunk in a storm. Cary Grant. The film has strong communist undertones. for no reason. Bruno. He generally bullies every character who does not hold power over him.

The exact political principles may vary depending on the political affiliation of the director. Visonti's pro-communism stance is clear. as if The Earth Trembles was a documentary. Thus non-professional actors play an active part in creating the film (Visconti 36-38). In Bicycle Thieves. The entire film takes place in Aci Trezza. was often written based on the suggestions of the locals about the next logical step. The only way this was achievable was to show the town as it really was. the working class. The story too. in The Earth Trembles. The audience understands the plot through a narrative voice-over and subtitles (Nowell-Smith 40). The inhabitants of Aci Trezza did not speak Italian.by a real fisherman. so the dialogue in the movie is exclusively in the local dialect. their role is not limited to acting. Unlike Bicycle Thieves. More generally. In conclusion. In The Earth Trembles. we can see that Italian neorealist movies made extensive use of non-professional actors . The use of non-professional actors is in direct contrast with this. are natives of Aci Trezza. as was common in poor Sicilian towns. with real problems and poverty help Visconti advance his political stance. The entire town could not be taught to speak in standard Italian. The camera never leaves this small town. Visconti also based much of the script on interviews with the locals. but a local dialect. For the duration of the film. Aci Trezza is reality. The individualist 'hero' of Hollywood ties in with the 'American Dream'. Neorealism was against Americanization of Italy. however. about their hopes and dreams. The use of a real community. but the sympathy for the working class is a common theme. Antonio Arcidiacono. Neorealism is at it's heart the film of the common man. De Sica's anti-establishment stance is highlighted by the use of non-professional actors. the hard-working poor were not treated fairly by those in power. The rest of the cast too. This dialect was nearly incomprehensible to anyone outside the town. In both films.

with a large portion of the film actively created by the inhabitants of Aci Trezza. where the 'star' was one of the main parts of a film. In The Earth Trembles. In Bicycle Thieves it is a stylistic device. As we have seen. these actors can also have significance politically. This is a stark contrast from the Hollywood films of the time. . which adds a sense of realism to the film. Thus non-professional actors were an essential and defining part of Italian Neorealism.in a variety of different ways. this is taken to almost a documentary level.

. London: Routledge. David A. Giorgio. and Kristin Thompson. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960. Print Bertellini. Print. Print. Millicent Joy. Spoto. 2004. 1973.Works Cited Bordwell. Print. Geoffrey. Marcus. Tonetti. Luchino Visconti. Janet Staiger. Norton. New York: W. New York: Viking. Da Capo. David. Print. Cook. Boston: Twayne. Nowell-Smith. Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism. Luchino Visconti. 2004.W. Claretta. London: Wallflower. Print. A History of Narrative Film. The Cinema of Italy. NJ: Princeton UP. Print. The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. 1983. 1986. Princeton. Donald (1999). 1999. 2006.

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