Shoeshine: Vittorio de Sica (1946)
The main hall in the Boy's Reform Institution
Shoeshine: Vittorio de Sica (1946)
Review of the Eureka Masters of Cinema DVD
Below is a YouTube extract from the Eureka film trailer
Released shortly after Rome Open City and Paisà, Shoeshine was the third release which is described as neorealist.In the preface to her important book on neorealism Italian Film in the Light of Norealism Millicent Marcus cites Vittorio de Sica who is reflecting upon Shoeshine and the ethics and moral compass of neorealism:
The experience of the war was decisive for us all. Each felt the mad desire to throw away all the old stories of the Italian cinema, to plant the camera in the midst of real life, tin th midst of all that struck our astonished eyes. We sought to librate ourselves from the weight of our sins, we wanted to look ourslves in the face and tell ourselves the truth, to discover what we really were, and to seek salvation...Shoeshine was a small stone, a very small stone, contributed to the moral reconstruction of our country. (Marcus 1986 pp XIII-XVI)
As it stands Shoeshine is one of the major neorealist films. De Sica follows these later with Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D
The Eureka Masters of Cinema DVD
This recent release is up to the usual high standards of this series and reflects a labour of love. The transfer is of good quality and there is a useful booklet which has an extract from a book by Bert Cardullo on de Sica. Cardullo is one of the few academics to have written on de Sica who is quite underwritten in English. The booklet also has a couple of pages from de sica himself on Shoeshine and two reviews. The first review is a contemporary one from James Agee and the other is a later one from Pauline Kael.
Of the extras on the DVD there is a full length audio commentary from Bert Cardullo. This provids both useful social commentary as well as dicussing the underlying meaning behind various typs of shot. There is also a documentary called Through Children's Eyes including a contribution from Franco Interlenghi who was to play Moraldo in Fellini's I Vitelloni.With the high quality transfer and a wealth of extras the DVD is very good value.
The film itself functions as a powerful critique of Italian society who are clearly letting down their children. The children are left to fend for themslves and if possible contribute to the family budget. Education is clearly a very low priority in the broken post-war Italian society yet children can be harshly treated by the legal and penal system which clearly has many features common to the Fascism which came before it. There is little of Enlightenmnt values displayed within the institutional system it is merely a mechanism for getting children off the streets.
The film is a moving one which starts out hopful and gradually gets darker. It is certainly not going to promote any feelgood factor but it did afford audiences the opportunity to reflect upon how badly children were being treated in the immediate post-war period. It is a classic core film of Italian Neorealist cinema and is very important viewing as well as being very interesting to watch.
The Overcrowded Cells
Shoeshine is set in Rome in 1945. The war against Japan is still carrying on but Italy has been liberated and the European war is over. The story is centered upon two young teenage boys Giueseppe and Pasquale. In an Italy economically broken by the war along with other boys of a similar age they struggle to survive by shining the boots and shoes of the American troopswho are occupying Rome. The G.I.s are the only people with enough money to afford this.The film opens on a high note of joy an exuberance with long tracking shots of the two boys galloping around a track somewhere on the outskirts of Rome. It transpires that they spend much of their earnings going riding and they are hoping to buy their favourite horse Bergsagliere.
The boys have nearly enough saved and the opportunity to help conduct a little blackmarket trading on the side promises to make enough money to get the horse. They are unwittingly exposed to a burglary by Giuseppe's elder brother who is something of a spiv. Initially they are given some extra money to keep quiet. As a result they buy the horse and show it off in the streets of Rome to the other ragazzi.
The police quickly catch up with them the following day. They refuse to give away any information and are therefore remanded to an approved school type of institution pending further police investigations.
They are separated in the institution into separate but overcrowded cells. Eventually the authorities get Pasquale to talk by tricking him into believing that they are flogging Giuseppe with a belt. When Giuseppe eventually finds out the close friendship collapes.Giuseppe dosn't realise why Pasquale talked. With the aid of his cell-mates Giuseppe colludes in setting up Pasquale by planting a file in his bed. As a result Pasquale is severely beaten. Pasquale in his turn is determined to find out who was behind the file incident and he ends up having a fight in the shower with Arcangeli who is the vicious force behind the teenagers in Giuseppe's cell. Despite being smaller Pasquale determination and sense of rage help him beat the bully however he is sent into solitary confinement and marked down as being violent by the authorities. Relations have entirely deteriorated between the former friends and Giuseppe's family hire a lawyer who is determined to set up Pasquale in order to gain mitigating circumstances and a reduced sentence for Giuseppe. This comes to pass in their day in court.
Giuseppe becomes involved in an escape plan with Arcangeli and others from his cell. Eventually they escape during the gneral screening of some films for the inmates. Only Giuseppe and Arcangli fully manage the escape as the others are recaptured. Pasquale guesses where they hav gone and promises to show the authorities if they will take him along. The place is where the horse is stabled Pasquale stops Arcangeli and Giuseppe from crossing the bridge to get away. Arcangeli is a coward and runs away. Pasquale starts to beat Giuseppe who in trying to get away falls to his death from the bridge.