Italian Neorealism in Film. Meaning & Examples.


Italian Neorealism is a post-World War II film movement that lasted roughly from 1943 to 1952, although its influence extended into the 1950s and beyond. It is characterized by stories set among the poor and working class, filmed on location, often using non-professional actors, and focusing on everyday life and the struggles of ordinary people. Notable directors include Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica.

Italian Neorealism is characterized by its use of real-life scenarios, focus on the plight of the working class, rejection of the glossy style of pre-war cinema, and challenge of traditional storytelling and aesthetics. It has profoundly influenced global cinema, inspiring filmmakers and movements worldwide, emphasizing realism, social commentary, and human values.

Historical Context

Italian Neorealism developed as a reaction to Italy’s devastation and economic hardship after World War II. It also sought to remove the escapist themes of the Fascist-era “Telefoni Bianchi” films, characterized by their light entertainment value and avoidance of serious content.

Themes and Characteristics

Neorealism dealt with the difficulties faced by the common people, such as poverty, oppression, injustice, and the struggle for survival in a war-torn society. The movement emphasized shooting on location, using natural light, and incorporating local settings and landscapes to add authenticity.

Read more on movie themes.

Notable Movies and Directors

Here are some of the most notable movies and directors within Italian Neorealism:

“Rome, Open City” (1945) – Directed by Roberto Rossellini

Set during the Nazi occupation of Rome, this film is a landmark in Italian Neorealism, combining elements of resistance, tragedy, and hope.

“Bicycle Thieves” (1948) – Directed by Vittorio De Sica

Perhaps the quintessential Neorealist film tells the story of a poor father searching for his stolen bicycle, which he desperately needs to keep his job.

“La Terra Trema” (1948) – Directed by Luchino Visconti

Based on Giovanni Verga’s novel, the film depicts fishermen’s struggles in a small Sicilian village, using local non-professional actors.

Legacy and Influence

Although the Neorealism movement was relatively short-lived, its impact on global cinema has been profound and enduring. It influenced the French New Wave, the Brazilian Cinema Novo, and the Indian Parallel Cinema, among others. Its emphasis on social realism, use of non-professional actors, and on-location shooting can be seen in many contemporary filmmaking styles worldwide.

Criticism and Controversy

Italian Neorealism was also criticized despite its acclaim. Some argued that its depiction of poverty and despair was overly pessimistic, while others criticized it for not being politically radical enough. Nonetheless, its commitment to portraying the human condition with honesty and depth has secured its place in film history.


Italian Neorealism was a film movement that emerged in Italy after the end of WWII, spanning approximately from 1943 to 1952.

It marked a significant departure from conventional filmmaking of the time. It focused on stories about the everyday lives of ordinary people, often casting non-professional actors to achieve a greater sense of authenticity.

Italian Neorealism remains a pivotal moment in cinematic history, reflecting a unique blend of artistic innovation and social commentary that has continued to inspire filmmakers and audiences worldwide.

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  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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