What are the Elements of a Good Film? — A Screenwriter’s Perspective
Cesare Zavattini, an Italian screenwriter, once wrote a famous piece of writing called “Some Ideas on the Cinema”, which delves into several of his notions on the nature of filmmaking. He had great significance in the cinematic and philosophical world as a theoretician of neorealism, and he often credited Antonio Gramsci’s influence on his work as well.
His own thinking impacted the works of André Bazin and Siegfried Kracauer. He had a professional and personal relationship with Vittorio De Sica, and had numerous moralistic notions that he premised the work of his life on. Exploring his views on cinema would mean delving into this topic with the perspective of a cherished screenwriter of Italian Neorealist cinema.
A breakdown of several of his most meaningful and revolutionary ideas on the nature of cinema
- A meditation on one’s relationship with reality. On this, Zavattini’s stance was that
“reality is hugely rich, [and] that to be able to look directly at it is enough; and that the artist’s task is not to make people moved or indignant at metaphorical situations, but to make them reflect (and, if you like, to be moved and indignant too) on what they and others are doing, on the real things, exactly as they are”.
According to him, neorealism differed from American cinema of his time in terms of the perception of reality. One point of view he provides is rather pessimistic, for he states,
“the world goes on getting worse because we are not truly aware of reality”.
He also provided an analogy to create a scene and described the fact that by highlighting the mundane,
“it will become spectacular not through its exceptional, but through its normal qualities; it will astonish us by showing so many things that happen every day under our eyes, things we have never noticed before”.
- An emphasis on the audience’s need to understand the social fabric their lives have been woven into through the means of cinema. He contradicted the misconception that neorealism is only associated with poverty by suggesting that it has
“begun with poverty for the simple reason that it is one of the most vital realities of our time, and [he challenges] anyone to prove the contrary”.
Zavattini provided another imaginary scenario to make the conclusive point that the audiences “are the true protagonists of life” instead of constructed, “exceptional” figures that stand as characters in films. He also provided an etymological and technical definition of neorealism especially highlighting the role of the actor specifically, for he mentions that
“the actor — as a person fictitiously lending his own flesh to another — has no more right to exist than the ‘story’”.
- The essence of psychological exploration in Neorealism. He outlined some of his own personal exercises in regard of what was discussed earlier. For instance, he declared that
“to exercise our own poetic talents on location, we must leave our rooms and go, in body and mind, out to meet other people, to see and understand them”.
What can one make of Zavattini’s ideas?
- Due to the rather decisive opinions of Zavattini on the subject, it is possible to be absolutely divided on what to agree or disagree with. Zavattini makes his argument with the use of several personal anecdotes, so while it is possible to diverge from his views using other academic or philosophical explanations, this work serves more as a form of individual account rather than a treatise on cinema.
- Zavattini has consistently engaged with other empirical examples to make his point. For instance, he recounted a conversation with an unnamed American producer and the retelling is of a conversation wherein the producer compares the American style of the imagination of a particular scene involving airplanes as compared to the Italian style. Whilst indicating that he agrees with the producer’s perception, Zavattini also provides a justification as to why this may be the case and contrasts the ways of the past with more contemporary views on the subject.
- His views are useful because although he expressed them as though they were personal accounts, he provided ample examples and rationales to support the stance being taken. Every anecdote is accompanied with a methodical explanation to elaborate on its use. For instance, after providing one such imaginary situation, Zavattini explained that the analysis of buying a pair of shoes can
“in such a way [open] to us a vast and complex world, rich in importance and values, in its practical, social, economic, psychological motives”.