Brutal VisionThe Neorealist Body in Postwar Italian Cinema

Brutal VisionThe Neorealist Body in Postwar Italian Cinema

Karl Schoonover

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780816675548

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press

Abstract

Film history identifies Italian neorealism as the exemplar of national cinema, a specifically domestic response to wartime atrocities. This book challenges this orthodoxy by arguing that neorealist films—including such classics as Rome, Open City; Paisan; Shoeshine; and Bicycle Thieves—should be understood less as national products and more as complex agents of a postwar reorganization of global politics. For these films, cinema facilitates the liberal humanist sympathy required to usher in a new era of world stability. In readings of crucial films and newly discovered documents from the archives of neorealism’s international distribution, this book reveals how these films used images of the imperiled body to reconstitute the concept of the human and to recalibrate the scale of human community. It traces how Italian neorealism emerges from and consolidates the transnational space of the North Atlantic, with scenarios of physical suffering dramatizing the geopolitical stakes of a newly global vision. Here we see how—in their views of injury, torture, and martyrdom—these films propose a new mode of spectating that answers the period’s call for extranational witnesses, makes the imposition of limited sovereignty palatable, and underwrites a new visual politics of liberal compassion that Schoonover calls brutal humanism. These films redefine moviegoing as a form of political action and place the filmgoer at the center of a postwar geopolitics of international aid.