When two Italian films won the top runner-up prizes at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the reaction at home was akin to that usually reserved for victorious national soccer teams.
The news media went wild.
"The Italian redemption," the critic Natalia Aspesi wrote in a front-page article in the Rome daily La Repubblica, lavishly praising the two films for their clean break from the spiritless cinema that had taken root in Italy in recent years.
"Gomorrah," Matteo Garrone's unblinking exposé of the Neapolitan underworld, won the grand prix, and "Il Divo" (subtitled "The Extraordinary Life of Giulio Andreotti"), Paolo Sorrentino's unflattering portrait of the man who was prime minister of Italy seven times, took home the jury prize.
Intellectuals jumped on the bandwagon, pronouncing the birth of a new movement that some dubbed neo-neorealism, in homage to the golden postwar era when directors like Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio de Sica and Federico Fellini captivated audiences and critics alike.
"You can call it neo or whatever you want," said Caterina d'Amico, chief executive of RAI Cinema, a division of the national broadcaster RAI, which helped finance "Gomorrah." "The fact is that great Italian cinema is rooted in reality. At the heart is a way of looking at the world or a person or society for what it is." Americans, she added, "are good at telling dreams; we're good at telling reality."