“Take a camera, gather those who love cinema, and go into the streets to see what is happening,” gushes Antonella Lualdi late in Gianni Bozzacchi’s Neorealism: We Weren’t Just Bicycle Thieves. That’s her response to Carlo Lizzani, her director 60 years ago in Chronicle of Poor Lovers, who has asked her what would need to happen for there to be a revival of neorealism, the street-life cinema that Italian greats like De Sica, Rossellini, and Visconti gave to the world starting in the late 1940s.
Lizzani co-scripted this short charmer of a doc, and he’s its inviting and guiding presence, an artist sharing impassioned memories and aesthetic arguments from a cozy study. In conversations with Bernardo Bertolucci, Martin Scorsese, and professor Paolo Galluzzi, who ranks neorealism up there with the achievements of da Vinci and Galileo, Lizzani traces his subject from breakthrough to movement to, as he and the subtitles put it, “formula and genre.”
He illustrates tenets of neorealism with scenes from Rome: Open City, Shoeshine, Paisan, and more, shown on a flatscreen digitally superimposed over the windows of the study — the idea is that we’re looking out at the world itself, not at the movies. Lizzani’s most interesting when examining the films that broke with the movement but now seem so deeply stamped by it that he’s eager to expand his definition of what precisely neorealism is.
All this history and critical appreciation is lightened by Lizzani’s genial goofiness: This is the only history-of-an-art doc you’ll see this year that keeps cutting to the director’s dog, and stay alert for his thankful words of love to a movie projector.
Neorealism: We Weren’t Just Bicycle Thieves
Directed by Gianni Bozzacchi
Opens October 2, IFC Center