24 October 2010

SCIUSCIA / SHOESHINE (Dir. Vittorio De Sica, 1946, Italy) - The Forgotten Children

'Neorealism was born after a total loss of liberty, not only personal, but artistic and personal. It was a means of rebelling against the stifling dictatorship that had humiliated Italy. When we lost the war, we discovered our ruined morality. The first film that placed a very tiny stone in the reconstruction of our former dignity was Shoeshine.'

- Vittorio De Sica, Rome, May 9 1971
Made in 1946, it is hard to imagine that whilst Hollywood cinema was entering one of its darkest periods and European cinema was attempting to reconstruct itself after the devastation of world war II that in Italy of all places a matinee idol turned film maker Vittorio De Sica was about to reinvent the language of cinema with the Zavattini scripted Shoeshine. Whilst auteur claims were to be found in the work of Welles and Renoir, it was directors like De Sica and Rossellini who were really the first auteurs of cinema. Shoeshine is an elemental film and one of the great humanist statements. Taking the premise of two young boys who act as a metaphor of post war displacement, De Sica's camera traces a journey that sees them brutalised by the adult world. Made up of a cast of non professional actors, the central performances by Rinaldo Smordoni as Giuseppe and Franco Interlenghi as Pasquale convey an unquestionable authenticity. De Sica's critical representation of prison life for the children inevitably translates into a microcosm of social and political depravity whilst their dehumanisation leads to a strong sense of indignation on part of the audience. Like Bruno in Bicycle Thieves, De Sica's children are constantly shown to be manipulated by adults who resort to physical violence, empty promises and lies so that power relations remain intact. Like many of De Sica's neo realist works and particularly those made with Zavattini as scriptwriter, film as a political tool for elucidation is never overwhelmed by the emotional connections shown by such real people in such real situations. Shoeshine is available on DVD and The Masters of Cinema release offers an extensive set of special features including an audio commentary by Bert Cardullo and a new documentary on De Sica.

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