Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema, 1950-1980

By András Bálint Kovács | Go to book overview

15
An Alternative to the Classical Form:
Neorealism and Modernism

If film noir can be regarded as a deviation from the classical narrative, another contemporary movement, Italian neorealism, offered other elements for a real alternative to it. Italian neorealism was a complex cultural phenomenon in postwar Italy integrating literature, journalism, and cinema. I will concentrate here only on some of its novel narrative features and its path leading to modernism.

One of neorealism's main contributions to modernism was its suppression of the hierarchy between the narrative background and the narrative foreground, which thereby loosened up the narrative structure. This was one of the basic ideas appearing at the outset of neorealism. Giuseppe De Santis claimed in 1941 that Italian cinema should follow Jean Renoir's method of providing the landscape with a dramatic function:

Everything plays a role in determining the drama of the characters:
equally the figurative motifs and those invested by the interior motivations
expressed by the actors. Those motivations are emotions that a human being
cannot express. That is what Renoir seems to suggest to us. So it is unneces-
sary to resort to things that surround the human being and express these
emotions through the environment.1

At the first glance this is only a stylistic claim for a psychologically motivated use of landscape. However, in the long run, it will have serious consequences regarding the narrative composition as well. The increased

1. Giuseppe de Santis, “Per un paesaggio italiano,” Cinema 116 (25 April 1941), repro-
duced in Massimo Mida and Lorenzo Quaglietti, Dai telefoni bianchi al neorealismo, Biblio-
teca di Cultura Moderna, 839 (Milan: Laterza, 1980), 199.

-253-

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