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BA Film Studies and East Asian Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Italian Visual and Literary Cultures from Surrealism to Neo-Realism

Unit code ITAL30341
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Italian Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit examines developments in the Italian novel and visual arts throughout the 20th Century, focusing on selected works by novelists Italo Calvino and Antonio Tabucchi, painters Giorgio de Chirico, Enrico Prampolini and Fillia, and Renato Guttuso, filmmakers Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio de Sica and Luchino Visconti. The course will offer a comprehensive overview of key moments of Italian literary and visual culture from the fascist period to the present day. The focus of the course will be on how different forms of storytelling change and develop within different literary genres and media. Texts and images will be explained not only in aesthetic terms but also in relation to the political, literary and social discourses of the day. At the end of the course, students will have gained substantial knowledge of the 20th-century Italian novel tradition as well as of that of its visual and political key representatives. 


This course aims to provide students with:

  • a detailed knowledge of major work by key Italian authors and artists of the twentieth century;
  • an insight into the latest developments of novel writing, filmmaking and visual culture;
  • an awareness of some of the recent literary, critical, artistic and cultural debates in relation to the selected texts;
  • an ability to analyse texts belonging to different media in great detail;
  • an awareness of the political, social and cultural landscape of 20th century Italy
  • an insight into 20th century Italian history;
  • a broad knowledge about Italian cultures in the 20th century;
  • an overview of 20th-century European cultural trends.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:

  • discuss various approaches to the notion of ‘reality’ in the arts;
  • show a mature understanding of the relationship between ideology and the arts in Italy;
  • analyse critically and originally primary sources, engage in an active dialogue with secondary sources, employ theory to read texts;
  • defend their ideas and an original argument in written tasks and oral presentations.


Block One: Cinema


Week 1

Realism and Neorealism in Italian Cinema


Week 2

Roma città aperta (Roberto Rossellini, 1945)


Week 3

Historical Novel and Film Adaptation: Il gattopardo (Luchino Visconti, 1963)


Block Two: Visual Arts


Week 4

Giorgio de Chirico’s art


Week 5

Prampolini, Fillia and Futurism


Week 6

Guttuso and Society


Block Three: Literature


Week  7

Introduction to the Unit

What is Postmodernism?


Week 8

Italo Calvino’s Il cavaliere inesistente (1959)


Week 9

Antonio Tabucchi’s Requiem (1991)


Week 10

Lisbon: the City, the Labyrinth


Week 11

Revision Class

Teaching and learning methods

This unit aims to mostly promote research-led and discussion-based learning.


Students will be engaged in their own individual research, which will result in written work (e.g.: essay and commentary) and a group presentation to be delivered in front of the class.


Students’ research will be supported through lectures and seminars, aimed to: provide a background of essential knowledge on Italian twentieth-century literature, art, and cinema; enable students to develop a critical attitude and analytical skills; make the class acquire the relevant methodology to interrogate written texts, visual art, and moving images.


Students will work independently on their written assessments and engage in team-work in preparation for their oral presentation. They will actively contribute in seminar discussions, and lectures will include Q&A sessions at the end, in order to facilitate intellectual engagement and students’ debate.

Knowledge and understanding

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:

  • analyse the selected texts in detail;
  • understand 20th-century Italian writing and artistic production;
  • demonstrate a critical awareness of the notion of narrative, visual and film theory; understanding of 20th-century Italian history.

Intellectual skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:

  • carry out independent research;
  • deal with abstract ideas;
  • engage with different type of text;
  • have a critical awareness of the relationship between the arts and society.

Practical skills


  • the ability to communicate ideas and sustain an argument, using relevant critical material, in discussion, essays, and seminars;
  • an ability to present complex ideas in clear form;
  • an ability to sustain public debate;
  • an ability to work in a team.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • An ability to work towards deadlines
  • An ability to communicate and discuss ideas in public fora
  • An ability to write complex arguments
  • An ability to critically assess conceptual problems.

Employability skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to: ¿ Initiate and carry out projects; ¿ Manage a project independently and work in a team; ¿ Manage time and meet deadlines; ¿ Deal with personal responsibility and autonomous planning; ¿ Demonstrate good presentation, writing, and language skills; ¿ Demonstrate power of analysis dealing with a variety of media.

Assessment methods

Assessment task


Weighting within unit


2,000 Words



2,000 Words


Group oral presentation

15-20 minutes








1 Essay

4,000 Words


Feedback methods

  • oral feedback on group presentation
  • written feedback on essays 1 and commentary 2
  • additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

Italo Calvino, Il cavaliere inesistente (Turin: Einaudi, 1959)

Antonio Tabucchi, Requiem (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1986)

Renato Guttuso, selection of paintings to be provided on BB9

Giorgio de Chirico, selection of paintings to be provided on BB9

Enrico Prampolini and Fillia, selection of paintings to be provided on BB9

Roberto Rossellini, Roma città aperta (1945)

Luchino Visconti, Il gattopardo (1963)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Francesca Billiani Unit coordinator

Additional notes

 Following successful completion of the first part of this course, it is strongly recommended that students continue working on their independent learning dossier over the Christmas vacation and the January examination period.   

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