For most of its run, this is a pretty classic Italian neo realist film that demonstrates its neo realist chops and hits most of the marks you would think for such a film. And then there’s the final shot, one of the great ones of the decade, which was almost enough for me to bump up its rating.
This is pretty typical neo realist stuff:
- a relatable, believable story about a boy forced to get a job to support his family instead of going to school
- no soundtrack and music only when music is in the actual scene
- hand-held camera for some scenes.
A huge chunk of the film (1/3? more?) is just one day in this boy’s life, trying to get the job. And then it jumps forward in time a few times but remains grounded in realism even when it leaves what the boy could possibly know about.
But though it definitely is a solid entry in the canon, it didn’t feel particularly remarkable for me for most of its run-time. It’s well-done but it’s also not really anything new. In fact, the thing that stood out more than anything to me was how everyone in the film was relatively muted for an Italian film. Turns out it was filmed in Milan, so that makes sense. Anyway, I was very much appreciating it without really being blown away by it.
But the final shot is one of those great shots that captures the essence of the story in just one moment. When the title comes on the screen it’s one of those great moments in cinema where it feels like the meaning of the entire movie is contained not just in one scene but in that one, single shot. I imagine being in a cinema somewhere in North American in, like, 1962 or 1963, and watching this film – utterly unlike an American film of its era – and the film ending like that, and I can almost feel the power of the moment.
It’s worth it, I think.