Now every movie is a product of its own time, but the neo-realist movie were much much more that that. After neo-realism, nothing would ever be the same again.
At the time the war finally ended in 1945, the Italian movie industry was at shambles. The Germans have confiscated all the film equipment, and they converted Cinecitta the studio (罗马电影城) into warehouse, and of course these were promptly bombed by the Allies. After the Germans retreated from Rome, the studio became a refugee camp.
So Italian filmmakers were sort of on their own, with very very precious few resources. Then the nation Italy itself needed to be reborn. How did the film industry, which was in a state of complete disarray, come to play such an important part in this rebirth? How did it come to represent an entire people desperate to redefine themselves after 20 years of Fascism and devastation of war?
If you ever have any doubt about power of movies to reflect changes in the world, to interactive with life and fortify the soul, then study the example of neo-realism. So What was neo-realism? Was it a genre? Was it a style? Was it a set of rules? But more than anything else, it was a response to a terrible moment in Italy's history. The neo-realists had to communicate to the world everything their country had gone through, a need to dissolve the barrier between documentary and fiction, and in the process, they permanently change rules of movie-making.
Altogether, these movies amounted to a prayer, that the rest of the world look closely at the Italian people and see their essential humanity. That's why they had to be truthful, there was no choice. So neo-realism wasn't just a question of making the best of a bad situation - although it was that too - no sets? Use real locations. No money to pay real actors? Use non-actors. This is the people in the places would come right out of the landscape, so were the stories. I mean in fact there were sets and actors in many of these films, but what's important is that for the first time illusion took a back seat to reality.
Take this character for instance, here's a man who's out of work as long as he could remember, and he finally finds a job, he needs only one thing to hold it down - a bicycle. And at his first day at work, somebody steals it, so throughout the whole film, he spends the next day looking for it, in the streets of Rome with his son. Desperate times require desperate measures. The neo-realist directors didn't just want to make these films, they had to make these pictures. Beyond everything else, neo-realism came to exist out of a moral and spiritual necessity.