Aiming to accord Giuseppe De Santis his proper place as one of the most important figures in the development of Italian Neorealism, MoMA presents rarely screened and newly restored films by the director, along with the premiere of a documentary by Carlo Lizzani that places De Santis’s work firmly within the tradition of socially conscious filmmaking. De Santis started out as a film critic advocating a more realistic approach to filmmaking. After working on the script of Ossessione (1943) as an assistant to Luchino Visconti, the filmmaker remarkably hit his stride with his first feature, A Tragic Hunt (1946). In this debut—and in the impassioned films that followed in the 1940s and early 1950s—De Santis exposed the intolerable living conditions and insupportable class system of postwar Italy. His work advocated improved social conditions while eliciting luminous performances, especially from his actresses, in cleverly wrought stories, often written in collaboration with fellow filmmakers such as Elio Petri and Michelangelo Antonioni. While his plots are often melodramatic and the real issues are usually enveloped in narratives of love and disappointment, at the heart of De Santis’s films are issues of class and political right and wrong. His frequent focus on dissonance within different class cultures provides his forceful Neorealist approach with colorful characters, as well as broad appeal. All films are from Italy, and in Italian with English subtitles, unless otherwise noted.
To commemorate MoMA’s presentation of this exhibition, the Giuseppe De Santis Association, together with the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia (where De Santis was a student and later a teacher), will issue a publication, Giuseppe De Santis: The Transfiguration of Reality, in English and Italian, containing previously unpublished testimonials and articles by directors and critics such as Ettore Scola, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Constantin Costa-Gavras; stills from De Santis’s films; complete credit lists; and synopses.
Organized by Jytte Jensen, Curator, Department of Film, with Cinecittà Holding (Paola Ruggiero, Camilla Cormanni). Grateful acknowledgement to the Italian Cultural Institute, New York (Amelia Antonucci); and for the kind collaboration of Associazione Giuseppe De Santis and Antonio Monda.