Telefoni Bianchi (Italian pronunciation: [teˈlɛːfoni ˈbjaŋki]; "white telephones") films were made in Italy in the 1930s in imitation of American comedies of the time in a sharp contrast to the other important style of the era, calligrafismo, which was highly artistic.
The most important symbol in these films are the quite expensive Art Deco sets featuring white telephones (status symbol of bourgeois wealth generally unavailable to the movie-going public), and children wearing Shirley Temple curls. The films tended to be socially conservative, promoting family values, respect for authority, a rigid class hierarchy and country life, all stances perfectly in line with the ideology of the fascist regime. The genre is also referred by modern film critics as "Hungarian style comedies", because the scripts were often adaptations of stage plays written by Hungarian authors (a popular source material also for Hollywood productions of the time).
Telefoni bianchi and censorship
In fact, to avoid the limitations imposed by the censureship of the authorities, with potentially controversial topics in the plot (for instance divorce, at the time illegal in Italy, or adultery, a punishable offence by the contemporary Italian laws), the action was often set in various foreign - sometimes imaginary - Eastern European countries, but always with Italian protagonists.
Effect on neorealism
The Neorealist filmmakers saw their gritty films as a reaction to the idealized Telefoni Bianchi style. They compared and contrasted the high-and-almighty gimmicks of set and studio production, with the dishevelled beauty of everyday life, the rigorous depiction of human life and its sufferings, and chose instead to work on location and with non-professional actors.