1946, Movies

Sciuscia [Shoeshine] (1946, Vittorio De Sica)

This is a pretty bleak early Italian neo realist film about two shoeshine boys who get into trouble and whose relationship is, um, “tested” we’ll say by the WWII Italian version of juvie.

The opening is really aggressively American in its use of an overture to try to give you all the feelings of the film. Maybe that’s more common in pre-WWII Italian cinema than I know, but I honestly haven’t seen very much of that. I do know it was extremely commonplace in the US and kind of annoying. Fortunately, once the film starts, that similarities with contemporary American cinema mostly disappear.

It remains utterly remarkable to me that the Italian and French film industries produced good movies immediately post-war. (There is also at least one remarkable French film produced during the war, which is really something.) These countries were just devastated by the war so every one of these films feels almost like a miracle. I may have artistic quibbles with this film, but it’s still a remarkable accomplishment that it even exists. (For the record, the film appears to be set in 1943 or so.)

Filming with this many children is always a challenge and, especially, given that they are Italian children. (As you know, I am not always a fan of Italian acting.) But the kids here are really, really good. Especially the two leads, who really embody their parts. The film might have succeeded with lesser actors, but this has to be one of best ensemble performances by children in a movie that I’ve seen. (I will say the sick kid is the weakest link, but that whole plotline doesn’t make any sense and I don’t blame that actor.)

I like who the rather intrusive score mostly drops away when they are arrested. That helps add to what is already a pretty bleak film, utterly out of touch with so much English-language filmmaking of the era. (If I tell you what happens in the climax, you might not believe it. Certainly there is no contemporary American or British film I can think of with such a bleak ending.)

My biggest quibble, aside from the jaunty opening and the sick kid subplot is how the climax is filmed on a set. I understand that they were working with limited means but the whole rest of the film is on location or feels like it is on location. Putting the climax on a set really gives it a sense of unreality. That appears to actually be a deliberate choice – based on the music and what appears to be Vaseline or something else on the lens – but it’s not one I like or understand.

Still, a remarkable film given the circumstances.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.