CONTROVERSIES AROUND NEOREALISM
As with most film movements, historians differ about how unified and uniform Italian Neorealism was. At a 1953conference on Neorealism, Zavattini, Visconti, and other participants could not agree on what characterized the movement. A 1974 conference of scholars saw little coherence; many believed that Neorealism was a loose ethic, not an aesthetic or a political position. A good survey of the range of opinions can be found in chapter 4 of Mira Liehm's Passion and Defiance: Film in Italy from 1942 to the Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).
Historically, Neorealism can be studied from several perspectives. For one thing, the film movement had parallels with a postwar "neorealist" literature, as exemplified in the novels of Elio Vittorini, Pratolini, and Cesare Pavese. These writers' works are discussed in Sergio Pacifici, A Guide to Contemporary Italian Literature: From Futurism to Neorealism (Cleveland: Meridian, 1962).
There is also the tricky question of the ties of Neorealism to the political left. In the immediate postwar period, an aesthetic of realism arose within the Communist party. Its proponents sought to create a "national-popular" strategy that would show a progressive, critical realism to be part of Italian cultural history. See David Forgacs, "The Making and Unmaking of Neorealism in Postwar Italy," in Nicholas Hewitt, ed., The Culture of Reconstruction: European Literature, Thought and Film 1945–1950 (New York: St. Martins, 1989), pp. 51–66. Communist critics at first favored the Neorealist films, and the directors, while not Marxists, often had leftist sympathies. Very soon, however, relations cooled. As early as 1948, Bitter Rice was attacked for its sex and its lack of "typical" characters. Between 1950 and 1954, when many directors shifted toward psychological analysis, Marxist attacks intensified.
Since the mid-1950s, the debate about the political underpinnings of Neorealism has continued, and not only in Italy. For a sample, see Liehm, Passion and Defiance, as well as Pierre Sorlin, "Tradition and Social Change in the French and Italian Cinemas of the Reconstruction," in Hewitt, ed., The Culture of Reconstruction, pp. 88–102.