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Cesare Zavattini - Some Ideas on the Cinema

Cesare Zavattini - Some Ideas on the Cinema

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Published by ali
In this ringing manifesto, Cesare Zavattini, who wrote such neorealist films as Shoeshine and Bicycle Thief for the Italian director Vittorio de Sica, laid down a challenge to all film makers "to excavate reality, to give it a power, a communication, a series of reflexes, which until recently we had never thought it had." Like Kracauer, he declares that the camera h a a "hunger for reality," that the invention of plots to make reality palatable or spectacular is a flight from the richness of real life. The problem, he says, "lies in being able to observe reality, not to extract fictions from it." Zavattini wants to "make things as they are, almost by themselves, create their own special significance," and to analyze fact so deeply that we see "things we have never noticed before." A woman buying a pair of shoes can become a drama if we dig deep enough into her life and the lives of those around her.
In this ringing manifesto, Cesare Zavattini, who wrote such neorealist films as Shoeshine and Bicycle Thief for the Italian director Vittorio de Sica, laid down a challenge to all film makers "to excavate reality, to give it a power, a communication, a series of reflexes, which until recently we had never thought it had." Like Kracauer, he declares that the camera h a a "hunger for reality," that the invention of plots to make reality palatable or spectacular is a flight from the richness of real life. The problem, he says, "lies in being able to observe reality, not to extract fictions from it." Zavattini wants to "make things as they are, almost by themselves, create their own special significance," and to analyze fact so deeply that we see "things we have never noticed before." A woman buying a pair of shoes can become a drama if we dig deep enough into her life and the lives of those around her.

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Published by: ali on Mar 11, 2007
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05/13/2013

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Some
Ideas
on the Cinema*
1
"The true function of the cinema is not to
tell
fables."
In this ringing manifesto, Cesare Zavattini, who wrotesuch neorealist films
as
Shoeshine
and
Bicycle Thief
for theItalian director Vittorio de Sica, laid down a challenge to allfilm makers "to excavate reality, to give it a power, a com-munication, a series of reflexes, which until recently we hadnever thought it had." Like Kracauer, he declares that thecamera haa "hunger for reality," that the invention of plotsto make reality palatable or spectacular is a flight from therichness of real life. The problem, he says, "lies in being ableto observe reality, not to extract fictions from it." Zavattiniwants to"make things
as
they are, almost by themselves,create their own special significance," and to analyze fact sodeeply that we see "things we have never noticed before."A woman buying a pair of shoes can become
a
drama if wedig deep enough into her life and the lives of those aroundher.Zavattini denies that we need to be bored by facts, or that
we
may get tired of poverty
as
a theme, or that there isanything beneath the notice
of
a film audience. In the mannerof the postwar Marxists, he belabors bourgeois attitudes;declares himself against the "exceptional"
m
or hero; callsfor a sense
of
solidarity, equality, and identification with thecommon man in the crowd. He wants the viewer to contributean intensity of vision that will "give human life its historicalimportance at every minute."
He
wants the director to takeboth the dialogue and the actors from real life, from "thestreet." And in a momentary forecast of the work ofAntonioni, he speaks
of
the film maker's need to "remain"in a scene, with all its "echoes and reverberations."
*
Cesare Zavattini, "Some Ideas
on
the .Cinema," Sight andSound, October 1953,
pp.
64-69. Edited
from
a recorded interviewpublished in La Revista del Cinema Italiano, December 1952.Translated
by
Pier Luigi Lanza.
 
Some
Ideas on the Cinema
No doubt one's first and most superficial reaction to every-day reality is that it is tedious. Until we are able to overcomesome moral and intellectual laziness, in fact, this reality willcontinue
to
appear uninteresting. One shouldn't be astonishedthat the cinema has always felt the natural, unavoidablenecessity to insert a "story" in the reality to make
it
excitingand "spectacular." All the same, it is clear that such a methodevades a direct approach to everyday reality, and suggests that
it
cannot be portrayed without the intervention of fantasy orartifice.The most important characteristic, and the most importantinnovation, of what is called neorealism, it seems to me, isto have realised that the necessity of the "story" was only anunconscious way of disguising a human defeat, and that thekind of imagination it involved was simply a technique ofsuperimposing dead formulas over living social facts. Now
it
has been perceived that reality is hugely rich, that to beable to look directly at it is enough; and that the artist's taskis not to make people moved or indignant at metaphoricalsituations, but to make them reflect (and, if you like, to bemoved and indignant too) on what they and others are doing,on the real things, exactly as they are.For me this has been a great victory. I would like to haveachieved it many years earlier. But I made the discoveryonly at the end of the war. It was a moral discovery, an appealto order. I saw at last what lay in front of me, and I under-stood that to have evaded reality had been to betray it.Example: Before this, if one was thinking over the ideaof a film on, say, a strike, one was immediately forced toinvent
a
plot. And the strike itself became only the back-ground to the film. Today, our attitude wouId be one of"revelation": we would describe the strike itself, try to workout the largest possible number of human, moral, social,economic, poetic values from the bare documentary fact.We have passed from an unconsciously rooted mistrust ofreality, an illusory and equivocal evasion, to an unlimitedtrust in things, facts and people. Such a position requires us,in effect, to excavate reality, to give it a power, a communica-tion, a series of reflexes, which until recently we had neverthought it had. It requires, too, a true and real interest in
 
118
CESARE
ZAVATTINI
I
what is happening, a search for the most deeply hiddenhuman values; which is why we feel that the cinema mustrecruit not only intelligent people, but, above all, "living"souls, the morally richest people.The cinema's overwhelming desire to see, to analyse, itshunger for reality, is an act of concrete homage towardsother people, towards what is happening and existing in theworld. And, incidentally, it is what distinguishes "neorealism"from the American cinema.In fact, the American position is the antithesis of ourown: while we are interested in the reality around us andwant to know it directly, reality in American films is unnat-urally filtered, "purified," and comes out at one or tworemoves. In America, lack of subjects for films causes a crisis,but with us such a crisis is impossible. One cannot be shortof themes while there is still plenty of reality. Any hour ofthe day, any place, any person, is a subject for narrative ifthe narrator is capable of observing and illuminating all thesecollective elements by exploring their interior value.So there is no question of a crisis of subjects, only of theirinterpretation. This substantial difference was nicely empha-sised by a well-known American producer when he told me:"This is how
we
would imagine a scene with an aeroplane,The 'plane passes by
...
machine-gun fires
...
he 'planecrashes.
...
And this is how
you
would imagine it. The 'planepasses by.
...
The 'plane passes by again
...
he 'planepasses by once more.
9
...
He was right. But we have still not gone far enough. It isnot enough to make the aeroplane pass by three times; wemust make it pass by twenty times.What effects on narrative, then, and on the portrayal ofhuman character, has the neorealist style produced?To begin with, while the cinema used to make one situationproduce another situation, and another, and another, againand again, and each scene was thought out and immediatelyrelated to the next (the natural result of a mistrust of reality),today, when we have thought out a scene, we feel the needto "remain" in it, because the single scene itself can containso many echoes and reverberations, can even contain all the

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