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The roots of Italian neorealism can be traced to the style that appeared in the Italian cinematography of 1913 and 1916 that focused on filming people who deal with their own issues in various realistic settings.
Italian Neorealism Characteristics
The neorealism stemmed from the banality of themes and mundane social situations that were depicted in the previous cinematic works. Neorealism had become to mean not only an innovative cinematic style but created a new philosophy of moral, political, and social standards. When discussing the main ideological attributes of neorealism, the following characteristics can be outlined: a new essence of democracy emphasized by the significance of simple people; a compassionate view on the world without lightweight judgment of people; the preoccupation with the Fascist past of Italy and the devastating circumstances caused by the war.
The Bicycle Thief as a Prominent Neorealism Work
The Bicycle Thief (1948) was made when the economy of Italy was slowly beginning to improve, and the neorealist movement was starting to fade. Thus, the film combined the most significant aspects of neorealism, depicting the poverty of Italy. It is a film that took nearly sixteen months to create and is the film where “nothing-next-to- nothing” happens (Gordon 31). The de-dramatization of the events in the film contributes to the neorealism characteristic that has very close relations to the existing reality. The lives of the characters are not set in a particular logical sequence they are messy stories that nowhere. Since the year 1948 marked the ending point of Fascism, the film reflects the devastation of the country at the same time with representing a shift from the Fascist aesthetic to showing the lives of ordinary people (Gordon 15).
When it comes to the film, neorealism was nothing more than a question of style. Realism was something the director wanted to bring into the artificial setting he had created so that the viewer accepts the artificial reality for genuine reality. However, it can be considered one of the most compelling but simple pieces of narrative cinema ever created (Gordon 8).
The Influence of Neorealism on Pather Panchali
Upon seeing The Bicycle Thief directors across the globe saw the refreshing aesthetic characterized by the postwar aspirations and beliefs in a better future. The realistic technique used in the film was successful in transferring an engaging story that reflected popular social issues. As a response to the two decades of the Fascist ruling and an avid call to the reconstruction of the Italian postwar society, The Bicycle Thief offered an array of new possibilities to the world of cinema.
The neorealism movement led by The Bicycle Thief has influenced a series of political and social reforms along with the emergence of new cinematic works like Satyajit Ray’s Pather Pancali shot in 1995. The influence of Italian neorealism is evident in Pather Pancali that depicted the rural life of Bengali without any exaggerations or embellishments. Since The Bicycle Thief enforces a new set of values that put an emphasis on the moral principles and family values (the main character Antonio Ricci is a father of a poor family that has to do everything in his power to support his family) (The Bicycle Thief), the work of Satyajit Ray also devotes attention to the social issues of superstition, illiteracy, and poverty.
Gordon, Robert. Bicycle Thieves, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print.
The Bicycle Thief. 2016. Web.