Naeisha Rose

February 9th, 2010

Andre Bazin, What Is Cinema? Vol. II

–  Trans. : Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971)

An Aesthetic of Reality: Neorealism (Cinematic Realism and the Italian School of the Liberation)

I was compelled by Bazin’s article. Last semester, I took a course called, Italian Cinema and Fashion. That was why I related to some of the subjects he brought to light – such as Italian neorealism, Rossellini, the effects of the Second World War on Italian Cinema, the use of unprofessional actors in these films, the typecasting of actors, and the reaction of the American audience to these works. Still, I could imagine it would be hard for anyone to connect completely to this article, like myself because, unless you have seen all of these films or know all of these directors/actors from the different countries he mentioned, it was challenging to make a mental and visual association of the topics he discussed.

Although I took that course, it was the only course I took on the subject. Rossellini was the only director whose work I was familiar with from the article, and of the cited Italian films Paisawas the only one I saw and was able to correlate with some of the topics Bazin focused on. Yes, I studied Italian Cinema, but I learned about films and directors from this country from a broad spectrum of genres, eras, influences, and themes. Due to technical difficulties in that class, I did not see Cabiria. However, I did see Nosferatu (not an Italian film – German), in a different class so I could identify with that one.

The Second World War had a great impact on Italian Cinema. The films of this era and the postwar era were slightly darker in tone, but often kept their humor. Justifiably, these films did deal with the war and how it changed the lives of Italians, but moreover, they dealt with who these people were before, during and after the war. These films did not tell sob stories, they dealt with the inner dilemmas these people had to contest with at home, with each other, and their country which was at ruins. More importantly, filmmakers like Rossellini conveyed powerful emotions in these films naturally by using the film style of neorealism and unprofessional actors. These two elements created an authenticity and sentiment of realism that was never seen before in film. The characters in these films had an unwavering level of humanity that people could bond with.

Due to the war, Italian films were not distributed to the United States. Still, the reaction to neorealism was phenomenal. In my opinion, American filmmakers realized they had to step their game up artistically in this medium. The glitzy Hollywood films that came out during this era looked like fluff compared to the neorealist films that were being produced in Italy. This era of Italian Cinema dealt with real issues plaguing families, problems in relationships and the inner turmoil of the soul.

On the topic of typecasting, I felt that I truly understood Bazin. Sometimes, it is the public’s as well as the studio system’s fault if an actor gets typecast. When people envision or relate to the actor as only one type of character he or she does not get to show their range. For instance, I know some might disagree with me over this actor, but there are a few incredible movies that he starred in that were genuinely poignant (one darker than usual for him), however he is often given roles as an outlandish comedic character. The actor is Jim Carrey. The films are The Cable Guy, The Truman Show, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In these last two films, I felt he should have really got an Oscar nomination or award for them. The last two films, where Carrey showed restraint as an actor, which he often does not or was not allowed to in other roles, showed his depth as an actor. I think it’s a shame he does not get to do that often.

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  2. Amy Herzog on March 4, 2010 10:36 pm

    Great post– you are right that Bazin’s argument can be hard to follow if you haven’t seen the (numerous!) films he cites. Glad you had a foundation in Italian cinema to work from. The notion of typecasting is a complex one– in some ways, Bazin suggests that the use of expressive character types can be productive. Rather than “actors,” some films use non-professionals (or very talented professionals) who can just “be,” conveying a sense of realism through their very presence.

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