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Binge on the best of the Italian neorealists

by Giovanni Fazio

Even a casual film buff knows that “Bicycle Thieves,” the 1948 black-and-white film by Vittorio De Sica, is regarded as one of The Great Films of All Time. It’s the best-known film by far of Italian cinema’s postwar neorealist movement, but those who wish to delve deeper into that rich vein can binge this month at Yebisu Garden Cinema, with its Cinema Neo Classico Italia showcase.

Along with “Bicycle Thieves,” the neorealist selection features another De Sica classic, “Umberto D.” (1952). About a retiree on the brink of homelessness, it’s a near-perfect example of how a film can be profoundly moving yet never maudlin. Also showing are two of Roberto Rossellini’s masterpieces looking at wartime Italy, “Rome, Open City” (1945) and “Paisa” (1946), and one of Federico Fellini’s earlier, less flamboyant films, “I Vitelloni” (1953), about a bunch of good-for-nothing mama’s boys. (Although I would choose “Nights of Cabiria” over this one.) All have been digitally remastered by Luce Cinecitta,and should be looking better than they have in years.

A second section focuses on glamorous Italian actresses, with the great Claudia Cardinale — who was actually born in Tunisia — appearing as a femme fatale in “Bell’ Antonio” (1960) and a nightclub singer/single mother in “Girl With A Suitcase” (1961). “The Big Night,” a 1959 film about juvenile delinquents and hookers, is surprisingly seedy for its time, boasting a screenplay by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Don’t overlook the tacked-on Encore Screening selection, which features another Rossellini gem, “General Della Rovere” (1959), with De Sica himself in the lead role of a con man coerced by the Gestapo into impersonating a partisan leader. And if you’ve never seen Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Conformist” (1970) on the big screen, here’s your chance.

Cinema Neo Classico Italia runs March 11-April 7. For details, visit bit.ly/neoitalia