Though often recognized for its male directors, women have long played a vital role in Italian neorealist cinema.

The first wave of Italian neorealism (roughly 1943 and 1953) was a cinematic movement that sought to depict the struggles of everyday people in post-World War II Italy.

In the years following WWII, Italy was grappling with widespread poverty, unemployment, and political instability — conditions that were especially difficult for Italian women.

This period called for a shift in cinema’s focus from escapism to realism. Neorealism became a reflection of the social conditions in which Italians found themselves: an acceptance of their current state and an acknowledgment of their responsibility to build a better future.

Though often recognized for its male directors, women have long played a vital role in Italian neorealist cinema.

The female characters portrayed by these filmmakers are refreshingly realistic; they are not defined by their relationships with men or by their appearance.

They are complex, dynamic individuals whose stories are integral to the overall narrative of postwar Italy’s struggle to rebuild itself as it confronts a new reality.

Women in Italian neorealism

Who Were The Women in Italian neorealism?

There were many women involved in Italian neorealism. Some of them were actresses, while others were producers and other filmmaking crew members.

There is a tendency to regard neorealism as primarily a male genre. Many critics have already noted how neorealist films portray women as victims of the economic and social forces of post-war Italy.

In this reading, the female characters are always caught up in the men’s struggle for survival or used by them.

In other words, even though the women are presented as equals with their male counterparts, they still possess only passive roles in the neorealist narrative.


Women In Italian Neorealism

Italian neorealism is a cinematic movement that emerged in Italy during the years following World War II.
In the aftermath of the war, Italy suffered from a lack of resources and was economically unstable.

This led to a focus on gritty realism in films and a rejection of studio-based filmmaking, which had been prominent in Italian cinema before the war.

Films made in this period are characterized by using non-professional actors, location shooting, and plots based on everyday events or  (“slice of life” stories).

Here’s our detailed video covering the history, origins and famous films & filmmakers of the Italian neorealist period:

Italians have long held that neorealism is an accurate depiction of their day-to-day lives and an important part of their history.

However, neorealism has also been criticized for focusing too much on the poor and working-class at the expense of middle or upper-class Italians.


Regardless, neorealism became one of the most influential cinematic movements of all time, inspiring French New Wave and Iranian New Wave movements as well as influencing later directors like Scorsese and Tarantino.

Though the neorealist movement reached its peak shortly after WWII, its influence is still felt today.

Women played key roles in Italian neorealism, and their work powerfully reinforced the themes of the movement.

Often working as assistant directors, editors and producers, women helped shape both the style and the content of neorealism.

Italian women had more power in film after World War II than many of their counterparts in the United States. In addition to creating lasting works of art, some Italian women became very wealthy from film.

Neorealism As An Artistic Response

Neorealism, or Italian neorealism as it is sometimes known, is a film movement that was popular in the 1940s and 1950s. It was characterized by gritty stories about working class people and their problems, filmed on location without theatrical lighting and set decoration.

Neorealism acquired its name from the artistic trend of the same name which began in Italy during World War II. The cinema’s aim was to recapture the “realism” of life, when all art forms had been dominated by Fascist propaganda and war.

The Neorealist writers also rejected teleological approaches to literature.The term “neorealist” was first applied to Italian films by French critics in the late 1940s, while the term “Realists” was often used by Italian film critics who viewed neorealist films from a left-wing political perspective.

However, neorealism is generally considered to be a response both to pre-World War II Italian cinema and to German Expressionist filmmakers such as Robert Wiene and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau.

It is difficult to make a precise definition of neorealist film, however, there are some themes and stylistic elements common to many neorealist films: A focus on ordinary citizens and their problems with an emphasis on.

Sexuality In Italian Neorealism

The major influence of neorealist cinema was Italian literature, and in particular  the works of authors such as Giovanni Verga, Alberto Moravia, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, and Cesare Pavese. These writers were considered realists because they focused on contemporary life and society, rather than fantasy or imagination.


The writers viewed film as an important medium for political expression in the post-war era. Neorealist films typically focus on the conditions of the poor and struggling classes, or on individuals whose social status does not conform to conventional expectations.

Neorealist films often feature children in major roles, though their characters are frequently more observational than participatory. In addition to being influenced by literary realism, neorealism was also a response to the dramatic overacting and theatricality of many other Italian films from the 1930s through the early 1940s. 

Italian neorealism developed during World War II.

It was not  until Italy was invaded that a majority of its citizens had any form of political presence.This fact left most Italian filmmakers no choice but to take an active role in their propaganda and national politics if they wanted their films to be seen by mass audiences.

Women And War In The Films Of Roberto Rossellini

Roberto Rossellini’s films are impressive because, in them, he does not depict women as victims or instruments, but as human beings with their own destiny and dignity.They are not seen from a male perspective, but from a more universal and individual perspective.

Rossellini’s films depict how the war affects women and how they react to it.The way women react to war is different from men’s reactions to war.

Men fight the enemy in war, and for that reason many of them die in the battlefields. But even those who survive the battlefields still suffer psychologically after returning home.

Women also suffer psychologically after seeing their children killed in wars. Besides that, they also suffer physically.


Rossellini’s films show different ways and methods by which women react to war. In many of Rossellini’s films there is a central theme of family values, return home, reconciliation with loved ones etc., which clearly depicts that family is important for soldiers during wartime (Stolen Life).

The central character does not seek revenge on those who killed her husband; instead she chooses to forgive them.

The Emergence Of Neorealism

The Neorealist movement was a postwar reaction against the films of the 1930s and 1940s, which were often accused of being too poetic, too political, and too ambiguous. Many Neorealist films instead focused on the working class and their day-to-day struggles to survive.

The Neorealist movement arose in Italy, but filmmakers in other countries soon began to imitate their style. Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) is generally considered the first true example of Neorealism.

The movement’s genesis can be traced back to the German occupation of Italy during World War II. Under the German occupation, Rome was bombed and many of its landmarks were destroyed, including large parts of the city itself.

Filmmakers who wanted to express their anger at this destruction began making movies about ordinary people living under extraordinary circumstances. Forms And Techniques, Neorealist films are usually told from a subjective point-of-view.

The audience sees things exactly as they are  seen through the eyes of one character or group of characters. The camera is typically hand-held, often with no cuts or edits beyond transitions between scenes.

In part because of this lack of editing, many directors have struggled with how to effectively make important scenes longer than.

History Of Italian Neorealism

 Neorealism was the first important and influential postwar film movement. It began in Italy during the early 1940s, when World War II was still raging.

Most neorealist films were produced between 1944 and 1952, although their influence lasted until the mid-1950s. Neorealism developed because of several factors: the devastated economy of Italy after World War II; the rise of mass culture; and the birth of a new generation that had no experience of the past.

The films are often described as “chamber dramas” , with isolated individuals struggling to lead meaningful lives. There is very little action, and there are no heroes or villains–just ordinary people trying to survive in a difficult world.

The term neorealism was coined by a critic, Giovanni Gorio, writing in the Corriere della Sera newspaper in May 1945, while the films were still being made. However, it was only later that year that the term began to be used widely.

Some critics have argued that this label is not entirely accurate because it implies that neorealism is a realistic cinematic movement. Many neorealist films are actually quite unrealistic in their portrayal of characters and situations.

The first important neorealist films were Ossessione.

In the decades following World War II, Italian cinema had a golden age in which a handful of films emerged that would go on to influence generations of filmmakers. 

Importance Of Women In Italian Neorealism

The role of women in Italian Neorealism is very significant. The women are depicted as strong, honest and independent individuals. Unlike Hollywood films, the women are not portrayed as weak or submissive.

Two of the best examples of this are seen in Pietro Germi’s “Divorce Italian Style” and Vittorio De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief”.

In both films, the female characters show their strength towards the end of the films. In “Divorce Italian Style” the wife kills her husband to get his insurance money so she can leave him and move back to her home town with her son. 


She has no concern for what anyone else thinks and will do anything to protect her son from living a bad life because of his father’s ineptness.

The female character in “The Bicycle Thief” is strong-willed as well when she takes her two children to Rome after her husband loses his job and cannot get it back whereas she does all she can to find honest work and keep them together as a family despite their poverty. These examples show that women have just as much strength as men and can survive on their own if they are forced.

Women In Italian Neorealism – Wrapping Up

In the final part of this series, I’m going to be looking at the role of women in Italian neorealism. Although they were not central characters in these films, they were certainly present, and often in roles that have been overlooked by many. 

In doing this series, I hope to bring some attention to their work and show how important their presence was in these films, as well as improving my Italian language skills.

In the post-war period, many women had more freedom and agency than they had previously enjoyed. They were more likely to hold jobs outside the home and get an education; they were also encouraged to participate more in politics.

This meant that their roles in society were changing rapidly, and it was reflected in popular culture too – one only needs to look at the musicals of the early 40s for an example of this (Giordano 2000).

However, there was still a great deal of prejudice against women who wanted greater freedom and agency. In many films of the period, we see very traditional patriarchal societies, where men do all they can to suppress any desires or aspirations that their wives may have. 

These films are not just intended as entertainment but also as a reflection of what was going on in society at the time.