This book is a collection of essays on the author's journeys taken during the past fifteen years. They are journeys in time and of memory about a country that no longer exists: the Italy of Roberto Rossellini's Paisà, torn by war and sometimes in conflict with the American 'liberators'. The essays concentrate on the structure and forms of the films they discuss; a confrontation of cultures, the Italy of Luchino Visconti, a territory more cultural than physical, subject to transfigurations wrought by a sophisticated intellectual who viewed the world through the lens of his sensibilities. The first three essays focus on discussions and films relating to neorealism. They seek problems and inconsistencies in points of view and prejudices that have become institutionalized in popular accounts of neorealism. The next two essays are dedicated to Visconti's commemorative and antiquarian vein, to the central importance of mise en scène (in the theatrical sense) in his films. The final essay is an attempt to recover an archetypical image in Pasolini's work. The characteristics shared by these essays include a sensitivity and knowledge of the cinema, genuine scholarship, and the ability to see aesthetic resonances to painting, literature, poetry, music. The contrast between darkness and light in Paisà and in Visconti's Vaghe stelle dell'Orsais most incisive and dramatic. They are all traversed by recurrent themes and obsessions: the contrast between darkness and light, night and day.
Paisà had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 1946. It is considered the most emblematic film of neorealism, though the term 'neorealism' was not yet part of critical debate until early in 1948. The realism of Paisà moves in a phenomenological light, emphasized by Amédée Ayfre and André Bazin. It is the film-maker who is close to things and gives the impression of setting these in motion in the narrative rather than bending things to fit a premeditated design. Paisà adopts a compound approach, mixing live shooting with dubbing, authentic voice material with a life-likeness of it. It has been said that Paisà was a quasi-documentary journey of discovery of a troubled and cruel Italy that had never before been filmed. The originality of the narrative construction of Paisà was highlighted by French critics at the time of the film's release.
La terra trema premiered at the 1948 Venice Film Festival. It was Luchino Visconti's second film. By its extremism and rigour, there is nothing comparable to the linguistic choices of La terra trema, neither in contemporary neorealist cinema nor in the history of Italian cinema generally, with the exception perhaps of L'albero degli zoccoli by Ermanno Olmi. Fundamentally shot in direct sound, Visconti's 'cherished' and incomprehensible Sicilian has no links with the dubbed Roman in Vittorio De Sica's Ladri di biciclette nor with the plurality of languages of Paisa. The men's voices in La terra trema become one with natural sounds and the sounds of work, re-echoed in a single musical scene. The recording in direct sound in La terra trema is an exemplary orchestration of the movement and speech, sounds and gestures, settings and characters, all perfectly pre-planned and calibrated almost as if they were 'already edited'.
Fifteen years after La terra trema, Luchino Visconti had set another film in Sicily, Il Gattopardo/The Leopard (1963). In this film he shifted the point of view from the lower class and current events of La terra trema to the nobility, and the great historical events of the Risorgimento. The narrative of the film is embedded in externals, in a dazzling world of appearances. Visconti, in creating his characters, often resorted to a stylization of external traits used to mirror inner ones. He worked on shaping appearances, giving characters the same polished unyielding nature as objects have and thereby establishing an accord between men and things. There were two centres around which the set design of Il Gattopardo revolved. One was Visconti's legendary taste for the real as opposed to facsimiles of it. The other, no less fundamental, was the excessiveness of his mise en scène.
Citing from the poem "Le ricordanze/Recollections" as the title of his film, Luchino Visconti introduced and commented on the journey to the past and to memory that he was about to undertake with his characters. The phrase 'Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa' entered directly into the narrative of the film as the title of the autobiographical novel of the character, Gianni. Inserted between two films in colour, Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa.. seems to stand out in Visconti's work like the black-and-white reproduction of a lost painting. In line with the title that reproduces the beginning of Leopardi's Le ricordanze, Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa.. recounts the vertigo of the individual seeking to repress the past, and the impossibility of escaping it and, at the same time, rediscovering 'lost time'. The film is an archive of memories, filled with objects and symbolic gestures, at the same time depicting Visconti's recollections, existential, artistic and cultural.
Pier Paolo Pasolini's work in the early 1970s can be described by two words: remake and masquerade. They indicate a desire for a play with forms, both joyful and light, opening onto a decade that will continue without him. Pasolini grouped together II decameron/The Decameron (1971), I racconti di Canterbury/The Canterbury Tales (1972) and Il fiore delle Mille e una notte/Arabian Nights (1974) with the title Trilogia della vita/The Trilogy of Life. It was meant to be playful, like a carnivalesque dance based on motifs and signs of the past. There is a strong temptation to think of I racconti as a prologue to Pasolini's last film, Salò. In Salò, the rituals are transformed into ceremonials, the pulse of life and its sacral substance into a cold geometry of shapes. Salò can be interpreted as a grotesque and violent 'Reality TV' show as the Italian poet Gianni D'Elia suggested.
Cesare Zavattini was born in 1902, in Luzzara, in the province of Reggio Emilia. He worked as a journalist on La Gazzetta di Parma in the 1920s, and also worked in cartoons and radio. He is principally remembered as a theoretician of neorealism and as the author of the screenplays of some of the major post-war films of Vittorio De Sica. In an article, 'I sogni migliori' ('The Best Dreams'), published in the journal Cinema in April 1940, Zavattini foreshadowed, as in a preparatory sketch, the dense network of ideas that he would interweave after the war. 'Nine-tenths of world cinema', he wrote, 'relies on the romantic and the extreme'. For Zavattini, a dual emancipation of the means of cinema was necessary, namely a break from established industrial structures and canons of representation, in order for it to accomplish its philosophical function to promote knowledge.
Pier Paolo Pasolini began his carrier as a writer with the novel Ragazzi di vita/The Ragazzi resulted in a scandal that would accompany his every gesture in the future. His relationship with the cinema began in the mid-1950s as a scriptwriter. His first film, Accattone, was followed by Mamma Roma. Among the various aspects and themes of his activities, this chapter focuses on a recurrent pattern in his writing and his films, and the accord and contrast between heaven and earth. Images of heaven and earth, of their closeness and contrast, constitute the scene of origins in Pasolini's poetry; in his 'philosophy', that scene is the natural, primitive one before history and civilization, a sacred scene of birth and death, of the beginning and the end. In the Friulian poems from La meglio gioventu, heaven and earth constitute a singular Arcadian scene, an idyllic place simultaneously affirmed and negated.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The journeys described in the book are journeys in time and of memory about a country that no longer exists. It is the Italy of Roberto Rossellini's Paisa, torn by war and sometimes in conflict with the American 'liberators', a confrontation of cultures, as real now as it was then. It is also the Italy of Luchino Visconti, a territory more cultural than physical, subject to transfigurations wrought by a sophisticated intellectual who viewed the world through the lens of his sensibilities. The book focuses on discussions and films relating to neorealism, and deals with Visconti's commemorative and antiquarian vein, to the central importance of mise en scène in his films. It also attempts to recover an archetypical image in Pier Paolo Pasolini's work as revealed in innumerable drafts and rewritings.