Realism and Neorealism in Film

Updated January 14, 2022

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Realism and Neorealism in Film essay

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Andre Bazin and Marcia Landy both talk heavily about realism/neorealism which is described as bringing stories grounded in reality into cinemas for a growingly complex audience. Using this realism, complex characters begin to grow out of stereotypes and the philosophical stance that sometimes you need to make big sacrifices to achieve the ultimate goal and that not everyone must be special to try and make that change or sacrifice.

In Andre Bazin’s essay, “The Evolution of the Language of Film”, he talks about the importance of bringing realism into cinema. He describes neorealism as “primarily a kind of humanism and only secondarily a style of filmmaking” (Bazin, 1997). What he means by this is that bringing realism into the cinema can possibly have the “means of manipulating reality” as well as “modifying it from within”. Neorealism in particular can lead to “a sense of the ambiguity of reality” which is similar to real life, where your questions may never be answered or you the ending of something may not satisfy you (Bazin, 1997).

This applies to Rome, Open City (1945) because the film’s plot is told through the perspective of the Italian citizens who are trying to survive and resist the evil Nazis. The characters that we follow in the film are working class people who are just trying to survive rather than the typical film of this era where they follow rich and privileged people with nothing better to do than to fool around. Rome, Open City (1945) also ends with the character we follow throughout the film, Don Pietro, getting killed by firing squad. This sort of story was very much unlike other films released in its time. Rome, Open City (1945) began to change what kind of films should be told to a growing complex audience.

In Marcia Landy’s essay, “From Movie to Method”, she looks deeply into how the characters in the film fit their masculine and feminine roles and how they can contradict some aspects about their individual archetype or stereotype. The character of Pina seems to fit the archetypal matriarch figure. She is motherly and protective over her son and she is engaged to Francesco, it is in her interactions and reliance with these characters that she reflects or as Landy says, “conforms” to her archetype as the matriarch (Landy, n.d.). Where Pina diverges from her archetype of the maternal character is when her “purity” comes into question. The mother archetype always seems to be pure and typically subservient to matters outside of the family.

When we first meet Pina, she is a single mother and pregnant with another man’s child. Although she is engaged to get married, she is visibly pregnant before they tie the knot. This is not how the typical mother figure in films act. Pina is also vocal about her hatred for the Nazis and helps the resistance try to fight them. This act is far from what a maternal figure would do, as said before, these maternal figures typically are quiet on political matters like these. Marina is a character that also fits another feminine Hollywood stereotype, she is as Landy describes her, the “femme fatale” (Landy, n.d.). The femme fatale was featured a lot in Hollywood film noir. These characters were beautiful but dangerous, and the love interest of the hero.

Marina checks all the boxes but Rome, Open City (1945) is not film noir dealing with the inter-tangling of two characters in passionate heat. Rome, Open City (1945) as described many times, is Italian Neorealism, and the goal of the genre is to be as close to real stories as possible. Although Marina is a femme fatale, instead of using her as an object of lust and fantasy, the story shows the true colors of this stereotype. Marina is ignorant, selfish and uses people for her own gain. This is shown when she betrays her boyfriend, Manfredi, for drugs and a fur coat. Getting into politics, into a cause especially in a time of war when your home is being occupied by foreign invaders is important.

Pina and Marina are almost the two sides of the same coin when it comes to this. Pina, although she has a child, a fiancé and is a working-class citizen is dedicated to the resistance versus Marina who is this beautiful actress that conforms to the foreign invaders and selfishly uses them for privilege in these hard times. The film is taking a philosophical and political stance that there must be sacrifices in order to make significant change in this world and just because you are of a higher class does not mean you are better than everyone else.

Don Pietro and Manfredi are the characters we see that comes from the perspective of the resistance against the Nazis. Manfredi is the leader of the resistance and Don Pedro is a Catholic priest who helps the resistance. Manfredi seems like he would be like the archetypal hero of the film, he is the leader and he is on the run from the bad guys. This is true except he is not the protagonist, he is also in only a few scenes. Although he does not fit Hollywood’s conception of the ideal hero or protagonist, he is without a doubt a more realistic hero. This also fits Don Pietro as well.

Both of these characters are willing to sacrifice everything for their cause, even death. This is more realistic than most films of this time which typically concluded in a happy ending. Although these characters do not stay within the lines of their archetype or stereotype because of uncharacteristic flaws that most of their past counterparts did not have, this only makes the characters more realistic, meaning more human.

Real people do not have the perfect background story nor do they always act the same. At the time of the release for Rome, Open City (1945), most films stayed within the lines of classic narrative, using classic archetypes and stereotypes to fill their stories, but those stories came out of the hope to make something fantastical more real. Rome, Open City (1945) came out of trying to bring real stories, real people, and real struggle to the silver screen by using these flawed characters. This continues to take the philosophical stance, that sacrifices must be made in order to change the world. Like the real world, you do not have to be super hero or a born special to change the world or your circumstance, one must only try and that is what Don Pietro and Manfredi do so heroically.

Rome, Open City (1945) as well as the Italian Neorealism genre came at a time during crucial political change in Italy. It rose from the ashes of Fascism. It wanted to capture real life, real stories. The world was at the point where these idealized, fantasy stories felt childish compared to the war and famine that most of the world experienced during World War II as well as the aftermath of the it. Although Neorealism only lasted for a short amount of time, it changed the way cinema around the world thought about films and how future stories would be told. Though there may be parts that are a few parts that are artificial, the whole story is based in the real stories of real people. The characters in the film also reflect that realism by being flawed with realistic human problems.

Realism and Neorealism in Film essay

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Realism and Neorealism in Film. (2022, Jan 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/realism-and-neorealism-in-film/


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