Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Neo-realist holidays

I spent part of my holiday leisure re-watching two great classics of world cinema and Italian neo-realism, that is, The Bicycle Thief and Rome, Open City. These were also in my top ten for Italian movies.

What's more, I watched them free, online. If you are in Boston or have a Boston Public Library card (available to all Massachusetts residents), you can go to the BPL's site and download free videos by using your card number. You must download the appropriate software first. A similar service may be available outside Boston, especially if you live in a major city.

Some considerations. In the current Italian climate of deep discouragement and widespread whining, it would behoove the Italians to watch both movies in order to remember what their recent past was. It is curious that a people with such a long history forgets so quickly. Or maybe that's the problem. Maybe they're like computers, and they're out of memory. If so, time for an upgrade.

Other consideration. After decades, the films lose none of their power. Must watching, whether you're interested in Italy or not.

Both movies are set in Rome, and The Bicycle Thief in particular is very Roman, including the dialect, romanesco. And in both, young Roman boys, amateur actors, (almost) steal the show. They are very true to life; I've actually seen Roman kids like this, an endearing amalgam of jaded wordliness and childish innocence. I don't think it was a coincidence that the directors placed the kids in such a prominent role: it was a projection toward a better future. A projection the Italians no longer seem to believe in.

Some trivia: the screenplay for Rome, Open City was co-written by a young Federico Fellini. The male lead for The Bicycle Thief was chosen when he took his sons to audition for little Bruno's part, which was then given to the unforgettable Enzo Staiola.