Amédée Ayfre, “Neo-Realism and Phenomenology,” in Cahiers du Cinéma: The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave, ed. Jim Hillier: Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.
Ayfre takes issue with the term “Neo-realism,” arguing in stead that the term “phenomenological realism” should be used. Phenomenological realism, evidenced in the Neo-realist films of Rossellini and de Sica, is a mode of realism that is very much prepared but that approaches reality not for the mere sake of verisimilitude but also to ask questions without offering answers. Ambiguity is key for Ayfre. He notes that de Sico and his screenwriter (Zavattini?) worked for months on the screenplay to The Bicycle Thief in order to make it appear as if they hadn’t worked on one at all. Ayfre drops names like Husserl, Heidegger, and even Merleau-Ponty, equating the subject with the “transcendental ego” and even applying the label of auteur to that subject. He writes that mystical/spiritual/religious themes are particularly dangerous in this phenomenological mode on account of the nature of grace being ambiguous. Thus, while it is perfectly natural to approach the theme of grade phenomenologically (à la Bresson), it is especially important not to reduce these greatest and most complex of questions to simple answers. If God doesn’t do it, Ayfre says, neither should filmmakers.