A.O. Scott on the new Neorealism in American cinema:
WHAT KIND OF MOVIES do we need now? Its a question that seems to arise almost automatically in times of crisis. It was repeatedly posed in the swirl of post-9/11 anxiety and confusion, and the consensus answer, at least among studio executives and the entertainment journalists who transcribe their insights, was that, in the wake of such unimaginable horror, we needed fantasy, comedy, heroism. In practice, the response turned out to be a little more complicated some angry political documentaries and earnest wartime melodramas made it into movie theaters during the Bush years, and a lot of commercial spectacles arrived somber in mood and heavy with subtext but such exceptions did little to dent the conventional wisdom.
And as a new set of worries and fears has crystallized in recent months lost jobs and homes, corroded values and vanished credit the dominant cultural oracles have come to pretty much the same conclusions... But what if, at least some of the time, we feel an urge to escape from escapism? For most of the past decade, magical thinking has been elevated from a diversion to an ideological principle. The benign faith that dreams will come true can be hard to distinguish from the more sinister seduction of believing in lies. To counter the tyranny of fantasy entrenched on Wall Street and in Washington as well as in Hollywood, it seems possible that engagement with the world as it is might reassert itself as an aesthetic strategy. Perhaps it would be worth considering that what we need from movies, in the face of a dismaying and confusing real world, is realism.
Postwar Italy turned inward after fascism, wartime defeat, and economic collapse to create some of the greatest films in history, by Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, the young Federico Fellini, and possibly my favorite postwar filmmaker, Vittorio De Sica. These films, usually using amateur actors (with glorious exceptions like the great Anna Magnani), location settings, and astonishingly free yet lucid cinematography and editing, portrayed hidden corners of the world from the networks of the Italian resistance to the pawnshops of the impoverished Italian (non)working classes.
The best heir to De Sica's throne is doubtlessly Ramin Bahrani, whose debut Chop Shop has been the best new independent movie I've seen in years. He's got a new one, Goodbye Solo, that also looks great. If Chop Shop was Bahrani's Bicycle Thief, then Goodbye Solo looks like his Umberto D.