This chapter offers a reconsideration of post-war Italian film history in light of the central place occupied by melodrama in the re-establishment of the domestic film industry. It considers the commercial success of the domestic melodramas of the era according to their passionate intensity, and the ability of this passion to express common experiences of frustration and of the bewilderment of a largely peasant society undergoing transformation, with romance narratives allowing consideration of the individual subject’s relation to an epochal uncertainty. This expressive power is related to the particular affective properties of melodrama, which are concentrated on the body and on stylisation, emphasis, and the creation of a female gaze, but which also involve an aesthetic of restriction creating sublime and sacred effects. The chapter examines how this restriction serves to replicate restrictions facing audiences in a time when conventional morality and agency appeared to be threatened. It ends by considering the possibility that cinematic melodrama offered a ritual experience that helped audiences understand their relation to a changing social order.
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