Shoeshine (1946)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age  |   Run Time - 93 min.  |   Countries - Italy   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Lucia Bozzola

Co-written by leading Italian neo-realist screenwriter and theorist Cesare Zavattini, Vittorio De Sica's Sciuscià (1946) examines the impact of post-Fascist social decay on poverty-stricken children. Bookended by images of a horse that symbolizes Giuseppe's and Pasquale's dreams of innocent fun, Sciuscià captures the hope and despair of the pair's friendship, as they get caught up in a black market scheme and wind up in separate cells in a "reform school" run by corrupt officers. The dankly claustrophobic jail cells contrast sharply with the difficult but unfettered life that the boys lived on the streets; even a movie night provides little relief from their jailhouse existence. Shot on location with non-professional actors, including Rinaldo Smerdoni and Franco Interlenghi as the tragic friends, Sciuscià exemplified the neo-realist principle of eschewing Hollywood gloss to portray the brutal realities of contemporary life among the postwar Italian poor, and the film ends on a moment of utter bleakness. Though Sciuscià failed in Italy, it became an international success, like Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City (1945) before it, bolstering neo-realism's worldwide prominence. Nominated for a screenplay Oscar after winning critics' prizes, Sciuscià also won a special Oscar for "superlative quality made under adverse circumstances;" the first special Oscar for "most outstanding foreign film" was awarded two years later, to de Sica's and Zavattini's Bicycle Thieves.