Neo-realism originated in Italy in the 1940s when film studios could not function normally amidst the ruins after the war. Italian filmmakers therefore changed to using actual locations, natural lighting and non-professional casts to lower costs and made a series of films that reflected the destruction of war and the lives of the underprivileged. Renowned directors like Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti and Roberto Rossellini developed a new aesthetic tradition with neo-realism, making an enormous impact on the French New Wave and influencing decades of world cinema.
Presented by the Film Programmes Office of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) and curated by Mr Law Wai-ming, the "Repertory Cinema 2013" series with the theme "Italian Neo-realism Cinema" will feature 16 notable and award-winning neo-realist Italian films from 10 Italian directors. The screenings will be held at the Cinema of the Hong Kong Film Archive and the Lecture Hall of the Hong Kong Science Museum from September 6 to October 19.
The selected films include Vittorio De Sica's comedy "Do You Like Women" (1941), as well as three of his films that found acclaim in the Academy Awards and Cannes Film Festival - "Shoeshine" (1946), "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) and "Miracle in Milan" (1951) - and his personal favourite "Umberto D."(1952). Also screening is Luchino Visconti's "Obsession" (1943), which has been widely regarded as the founding work of neo-realist film, in addition to his other works "The Earth Will Tremble" (1948), which won a Golden Lion in the 1948 Venice Film Festival and "Bellissima" (1951), which features mothers who hope their children can find the celluloid dream. The programme line-up continues with "Days of Glory" (1945), which was a collaboration among directors Giuseppe De Santis, Luchino Visconti, Marcello Pagliero and Mario Serandrei; Michelangelo Antonioni's debut film "People of the Po Valley" (1947); Roberto Rossellini's famous "War Trilogy" of "Rome, Open City" (1945), "Paisan" (1946) and "Germany Year Zero" (1948); Carlo Lizzani's "Chronicle of Poor Lovers" (1954), which won the Grand Prize in the 1954 Cannes Film Festival; Vittorio De Seta's "Bandits of Orgosolo" (1960), which won Best First Work in the 1961 Venice Film Festival; and Pier Paolo Pasolini's debut film "Accattone" (1961).
The Film Programmes Office has also organised a master study course, through which the audience can gain a better understanding of Italian neo-realism. The Director of the Master of Social Science in Global Political Economy Programme of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Mr Simon Shen, will share his opinions in the session entitled "Italy's Socio-Political Culture in the Times of Mussolini" on September 14 (Saturday). Film critic Shum Long-tin will host the class entitled "If the Land has Emotions - Italian Neo-realism" on October 6 (Sunday), and the Vice President of the Hong Kong Film Critics Society, Matthew Cheng, will discuss the topic "Eyes of a Critic, Heart of Neo-realism" on October 12 (Saturday). The course will be held at the Function Room at Level 4 of the Administration Building of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre at 2.30pm. All classes will be conducted in Cantonese and the fee per session is $80.
To complement the screenings, a seminar entitled "Italian Neo-realism Cinema" will be held at 4.30pm after the screening of "Bellissima" on September 29 (Sunday). Mr Law and film critics Ka Ming and Cheng Chuen-wai will discuss with the audience the characteristics of Italian neo-realism. The seminar will be conducted in Cantonese with free admission.
Italian neo-realism was an important movement in film history. Italian cinema in the days of Fascist rule was dominated by lavish epics that served as political propaganda, or escapist "telefoni bianchi" (white telephone) films. Some filmmakers were against this opulence and suggested that Italian cinema should turn to writers following a more realistic and humanistic approach to show social problems, the psyche and the conditions of everyday life. With the end of World War II and the fall of Benito Mussolini's government, the film industry's infrastructure was destroyed and filmmakers came to feature contemporary stories with location shooting, using non-professional actors and shooting in a half-documentary style. The neo-realism movement became famous globally, and its aesthetic tradition continued to flourish in the works of many filmmakers. De Sica, Visconti and Rossellini were dubbed the three heroes of Italian neo-realism. Their noteworthy works were recognised with many international awards yet they were not well received in Italy at the time.
Having started out as a comedian, De Sica was good at expressing emotions. In the comedy of errors "Do You Like Women", he incorporated a lot of comments on Italy's socio-political situation. "Shoeshine", a big hit in the US and the first foreign movie awarded the Honorary Award at the Academy Awards, looked at war-ravaged Italy through the eyes of children. Most of the characters were played by inexperienced child actors. De Sica's signature classic "Bicycle Thieves" won many international awards, including those at the Academy Awards and the Locarno Film Festival. The film is a tale of post-war unemployment with a man selling off his family fortune to buy a bicycle for his job. Unfortunately, his bicycle is stolen and, when he steals someone else's bicycle out of desperation, he is caught in the act. The film is representative of its genre with actual locations, non-professional actors and improvised dialogue. De Sica's "Miracle in Milan", a winner of the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, is a surrealist morality play with angels and miracles. The director's personal favourite, "Umberto D.", features a heart-rending tragedy about the survival of a lonely pensioner and his dog. The non-professional actor was in real life a university professor.
Visconti's "Obsession", adapted from the novel "The Postman Always Rings Twice", features the murder of a woman's husband. The use of long takes and location shooting made it a pioneering work in neo-realism. The director's peak work, "The Earth Will Tremble", was adapted from Giovanni Verga's famous novel "I Malavoglia". Filmed in a documentary style, it transposes the epic scope of Verga's novel and Italy's poverty to the big screen. In "Bellissima", Visconti diverted his attention from society to the spiritual realm for a story that features a mother spending a fortune to dress up her daughter, all for the celluloid dream.
Directed by four directors, "Days of Glory" is a documentary showing a powerful depiction of the Italian people's struggle against Nazi Germany and the Fascist regime. Showing in the same screening is the short documentary "People of Po Valley", the debut film by Antonioni, featuring the lives of people who use barges to carry farm products along Italy's longest river. Although only 10 minutes of the film have survived, the director's talent is already apparent in this remaining footage.
Rossellini's "Rome, Open City", the first of the director's war trilogy, is a landmark piece of Italian neo-realism. The film depicts the tragic struggles of the Italian people against Nazism, and the visuals immediately captivated audiences worldwide. The second film was "Paisan", and the final film "Germany Year Zero" focused on the tragic post-war Germany. The end sequence, spanning more than 10 minutes, in which the protagonist walks through the streets of Berlin before committing suicide, inspired many New Wave films with similar sequences.
The scriptwriter of "Germany Year Zero", Carlo Lizzani, directed his film "Chronicle of Poor Lovers" amidst the locations of the old Florence Palazzo. The story, featuring proletariat young lovers, changes from social reality to romance set against history. The cast was no longer non-professional actors and included Marcello Mastroianni before his days of stardom.
De Seta's "Bandits of Orgosolo" is set in poverty-stricken Sardinia, which seems to be a far cry from civilization. The director hired locals to play their parts with a documentary-like style. Pasolini's debut film "Accattone" features a pimp who loses his living when his collaborating prostitute is arrested. Taking neo-realist techniques further with his non-professional cast, Pasolini shows concern for those living at the bottom of society and the alienation of humanity.
"Germany Year Zero" is in German and English while the other films are in Italian. All films are with English subtitles. "Miracle in Milan", "The Earth Will Tremble" and "Rome, Open City" have Chinese and English subtitles.
Tickets for the screenings and courses are now available at URBTIX. Screening tickets are priced at $55. Half-price concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities and their minders, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Credit card bookings can be made at 2111 5999, or on the Internet at www.urbtix.hk . Detailed programme information can be found in programme brochures at all performing venues of the LCSD. For programme enquiries, please call 2734 2900, or browse the webpage at www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/filmprog/english/2013rc/2013rc_index.html .
Ends/Monday, August 19, 2013
Issued at HKT 19:30
A film still of "Shoeshine" (1946).
A film still of "Do You Like Women" (1941).
A film still of "Obsession" (1943).
A film still of "Days of Glory" (1945).
A film still of "Paisan" (1946).
A film still of "Bandits of Orgosolo" (1960).