Lamberto Maggiorani and his neorealist alter ego Antonio Ricci
Lamberto Maggiorani worked as a turner at the Breda, a former weapon then steel factory from the fascist era, situated just a few kilometers outside Porta Maggiore. At the time Vittorio De Sica was holding auditions for the child character for his upcoming movie, Bicycle Thieves. He spotted Lamberto Maggiorani in the crowd with his son at his hand. De Sica noticed his movements and posture, the scragginess of his body: the details that revealed the unconcealed authenticity of this man. His entire appearance was testament to the postwar working class Italian father: a captive of the precarious circumstances, with few possibilities to overcome the class related restrictions. Vittorio De Sica recruited the complete cast for his movie literally from the streets of the Roman suburbs. This way, according to French cinema critic Andre Bazin, De Sica was able to create the purest expression of Neorealism (Andre Bazin, Che cos’è il cinema?, Garzanti, 2000, pp. 317-318). The term ‘neorealism’ began to surface after Luchino Visconti’s ‘Ossessione’ in 1942 (Andre Bazin, 1964, 9-37), an adaption of James M. Cains ‘The postman always rings twice’. But the productions in the newly built Cinecittà Studios in the ‘ventennio fascista’ like ‘Luciano Serra pilota’ (1938, co-written by a young and promising Roberto Rossellini and directed by Goffredo Alessandrini) already anticipated elementary traits of the neorealist verismo. Relying strongly on a documentarian camera work and accentuating the immediacy of action in the framing, the ideological propagandistic pathos was eluded and the focus set on the individually perceived drama of the war. In the works to follow the early neorealist directors like De Sica, Visconti and Rossellini continued to implement the techniques that layer by layer formed the basis of neorealist cinema: the single long-take-shots, the use of non professional performers and the expressiveness of black and white photography.
The unexpected success of Bicycle Thieves brought Lamberto Maggiorani an ephemeral aura of stardom and 600,000 Lire, equivalent of about 8,800 Euro today. As he reported in an interview in the late 1950is, this rather conspicuous amount of money for the time, didn’t make him a rich man. He could afford for the first time to go on a holiday with his family and buy new furniture and shoes for his children. But when the factory had to dismiss nearly 450 of the 700 employees, due to missing contracts, his short stint in the movie industry made him easily to dispose of, since there were enough comrades that needed a job more than a onetime moviestar.
He fortunately was able to return to Cinecittà. As a non professional actor though his roles were reduced to marginal appearances that secured him just enough income to overcome his predicament. His vita thus exemplified one of the fundamental paradoxa of neorealist cinema, which made it difficult for Marxist ideology to encapsulate it in its propaganda activism. Accentuating the documentarian approach and thus the distancing from the subject depicted, let the inability to implement change in class mobility into postwar societies surface, an, according to Cesare Zavattini, Vittorio De Sicas longtime screen writer, Italian Neorealism never claimed this missionary position for itself (Zavattini, Uomo, vieni fuori, 2009). In the end the neorealist period in Italian cinema lead to the oniric realism of Federico Fellini and offered thereby the escapist outbreak from a black and white reality, eluding the daily harshness and suffering of the naive working class.