The Pseudo-iterative as Narrative Rupture in Umberto D and Il Posto
Within the neorealist aesthetic, rich photographic detail frequently functions to express not the singulative (as in Hollywood classical cinema) but the iterative. Although the iterative is sometimes signalled by voice-overs (as in films like La Terra Trema, Paisà , and Amore in città ), it more typically is marked by visual operations, particularly through spatial determinations. The referential interplay between the singulative event and the paradigm it represents is frequently played out spatially in terms of foreground and background. Yet, the iterative background is not merely "descriptive" or subordinate as in Hollywood classical cinema, but at least co-equal, normative, and determinant in ideological terms—relations that can be established by spatial or temporal continuity through depth composition or long takes punctuated by ellipses. Individuals and their actions are chosen precisely because they are representative and typical in an iterative sense; the anonymous characters in the background are not used merely as a backdrop against which to distinguish the singularity of the protagonist (a singularity which then is invisibly transformed into a norm as in classical Hollywood cinema), but rather as a means of explicitly acknowledging the iterative aspect and the slippage between it and the singulative dimensions of this particular occurrence within the series.
For example, the singular protagonists of DeSica's Bicycle Thief and Umberto D are introduced within a crowd, from which they are visibly selected for foregrounding during an habitual event (a daily hiring of workers, or one of the frequent impromptu demonstrations in postwar Rome). Yet it's the typicality of these characters and their events that are valued and repeatedly emphasized, not their singularity. Similarly, the multiple protagonists of Rossellini's Open City and Paisà emerge from events involving large numbers of people, events that are already in progress and that are presumed to be illustrative of a common series that frequently occurred during a specific historical period in a specific location. The precision of detail in the image helps identify the paradigm to which the particular characters and events belong; the long take and depth focus, and even the montage structure at the opening of Umberto D and Shoeshine , continue to acknowledge the connection between the individual and the paradigm, between the singulative and the iterative aspects.