7:00 PM, Wednesday April 26
Australian Premiere: Introduced by Noa Steimatsky

2:15 PM, Friday April 28

Randwick Ritz

Director: Vittorio De Sica
Country: Italy
Year: 1946
Runtime: 93 minutes
Rating: M
Language: Italian, English subtitles


"The experience of the war was decisive for all of us...we sought to liberate ourselves from the weight of our sins...Shoeshine was a small stone, a very small stone, a contribution to the moral reconstruction of our country." — Vittorio De Sica

Two shoeshine boys in post-war Rome try the make a living from American soldiers and dream of buying a horse, but eventually, run afoul of the law and the black market. An early classic of the Italian neo-realist movement, De Sica’s exposé of the Roman prison system guaranteed no director would be allowed back into an Italian jail system to make a film for a very long time. Shoeshine was the first film awarded an Oscar as Best Foreign Film for proving “to the world that the creative spirit can triumph over reality”.

I came out of the theatre, tears streaming, and overheard the petulant voice of a college girl complaining to her boyfriend ‘Well I don’t see what was so special about that movie’. I walked up the street crying blindly, no longer certain whether my tears were for the tragedy on screen, the hopelessness I felt for myself, or the alienation I felt from those who could not experience the radiance of Shoeshine.” — Pauline Kael

There are no barriers at all between De Sica and these children whose tragic lives he understood perfectly.” — Martin Scorsese

When working with [scriptwriter] Zavattini, De Sica was able to explore the pitiful and most frail aspects of what it means to be human, especially through the difficulties of the working-class poor.” — Ted Perry

The 7pm screening on Wednesday 26 April will be introduced by Noa Steimatsky, a film historian now writing a book on Cinecittà at War. She is the author of The Face on Film (2017) and Italian Locations (2008).


Vittorio De Sica
By Dan Harper

These notes first appeared in Senses of Cinema, Issue 11, December 2000 and are reprinted by kind permission of the Editorial Board.
In a 1971 interview with Charles Thomas Samuels, Vittorio De Sica made a sad summation of his career in film: “All my good films, which I financed myself, made nothing. Only my bad films made money. Money has been my ruin.”

Good films. Bad films. In De Sica’s filmography, it is relatively easy to distinguish them. It seems almost as if they were directed by two different men. For how could the man who made The Bicycle Thief (Ladri di Biciclette, 1948) have made Woman Times Seven (1967), a showcase for Shirley MacLaine’s dubious talents in seven equally moribund roles? Or, A Place for Lovers (Amanti, 1968), wherein Mastroianni pursues Faye Dunaway, who is dying from a brain tumor (or was it the other way around)? Or, The Voyage (Il Viaggio, 1974), his posthumous film, a turgid romance with the unlikeliest pairing of Sophia Loren and Richard Burton?

If we look closer, however, it becomes obvious that De Sica’s career did not follow so simple a trajectory. It would be perilous, in fact, to uphold his criterion in the face of some glorious exceptions. For, in which category would De Sica have placed The Gold of Naples (L’oro di Napoli, 1954), which he didn’t produce and which made money? Or the film that represented his comeback, Two Women (La Ciociara, 1961), which was produced by Joseph E. Levine and starred Sophia Loren and Jean-Paul Belmondo (and which, incidentally, won a few Oscars)? Or, Filumena Marturano (1964), produced by Carlo Ponti and distributed in the U.S. by Joseph Levine, who doubtless gave it the asinine American title Marriage Italian-Style?

The Gold of Naples was originally a six-part film, derived from a Giuseppe Marotta novel depicting the picaresque lives of Neapolitans. Two of the episodes were cut for its American release, presumably because they were considered too esoterically Italian. Of the four remaining parts, two stand as monuments to De Sica’s ability to regenerate the sometimes forgotten art of film acting. They both climax at momentary character epiphanies that required the actors to undergo emotional transformations before our very eyes. Yet De Sica and his actors make the transformations so understated that the effect is altogether astonishing. The first of these two parts depicts a local hood who tyrannizes a family, until, having finally had enough, the family stands in unison against him. The hood stands there, in the family’s kitchen, ready to tear them limb from limb, when he suddenly sees the desperate determination in their faces, even on the face of their little boy. He looks down, fiddles with his hat, and backs away, quietly closing the front door behind him.

The second great episode shows us Teresa, a prostitute approached with a marriage proposal from a wealthy young man. Never once questioning the unlikelihood of her good fortune, Teresa is informed by her new husband on her wedding night that he only married her in order to atone for the suicide of a virtuous young girl whose affections he had ignored. He assures her that she will enjoy the comfort of her new social position, but the whole town is to know of his marriage to a streetwalker so that he might spend the rest of his life paying for his unthinking cruelty to the dead girl. Tearfully fleeing from her humiliation, Teresa leaves the house and hurries down the dark street. But before getting more than a few blocks away she suddenly stops, gazing at the night and the inevitable return to her old life. Silvana Mangano gives the performance of her life as she communicates, with a few sobs and the stamp of a lifetime of hard choices on her face, how wealth and comfort can render the unthinkable somehow preferable to a hell she knows only too well. She goes back to the house – her house, and raps entreatingly on the huge wooden door.

Two Women was based on an Alberto Moravia story named after its heroine, Cesira, “la Ciociara” (i.e., woman from Ciociara). The Gold of Naples introduced a voluptuous young actress to the world named Sophia Loren. By the time Loren’s producer-boyfriend Carlo Ponti approached De Sica with the project of adapting the Moravia story to film, she was on the verge of international stardom. De Sica had made only two films in the seven years after The Gold of Naples. He had produced The Roof (Il Tetto, 1956) with his own money – again addressing social concerns, this time a young couple’s attempts to put a roof over their heads. True to De Sica’s dictum, it made no money. Two years later, he made Gina Lollobrigida a star in Anna of Brooklyn (Anna di Brooklyn, 1958), without managing to contribute a tincture of luster to his own reputation. With Two Women, De Sica returned to familiar terrain, in a thoroughly neo-realist mode. The other woman in Two Women is Cesira’s daughter, Rosetta. Together they leave war-ravaged Rome for the relative safety of the countryside – eventually returning to Cesira’s village. Along the way, they encounter various instances of war’s ultimate obscenity. Spared in their encounters with Germans and fascist Italians, both mother and daughter are ultimately raped by the Allies – a truckload of leering Moroccans – within the presumed sanctuary of a derelict church. Nothing and no one is spared the indiscriminate barbarity. De Sica, by concentrating less on events than on the effects they elicit in his characters, managed once again to humanize his material, to subsume history in the life of his heroine.

By the time De Sica made Filumena Marturano in 1964, neo-realism was quite belatedly dead, and no one but its inveterate hardliners were lamenting its passing. Nonetheless, De Sica managed to discover, in widescreen Eastmancolor, a style to suit the Eduardo De Filippo play he had chosen to adapt – a dramatic approach to life embracing both the glorious and the ridiculous. Here we are once again introduced to a familiar acting pair, Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren. But we are quickly convinced through superb acting and a genuine feeling for the city of Naples that this is to be something more than yet another bathetic love story. Sure, the flashbacks are handled rather quaintly, and the music is awful, but the film embraces so much that it would be useless to complain that its embrace is sometimes clumsy. De Sica takes us well past the usual melodramatic conclusions in his characters’ lives to an ending that is neither final nor quite fulfilling. It may be the cheeriest ending to any of his films: Filumena/Sophia marries Domenico/Marcello. But why is Filumena crying as the camera tracks discreetly away from her?

In 1952, after his last “good” film – Umberto D – flopped (read: “made no money”), De Sica answered the call of David O. Selznick and directed Stazioni Termini (1952), clumsily renamed Indiscretion of an American Wife in the U.S., starring Selznick’s wife, Jennifer Jones. Living up to her reputation as a notorious pain in the neck, Jones was required to wear a Christian Dior hat that she hated so intensely she attempted to flush it down a toilet. De Sica explained to her morosely that he could have made another The Bicycle Thief with what her hat was worth.

De Sica never made another The Bicycle Thief. He became the pampered captive of the likes of Joe Levine and Carlo Ponti. Even his old comrade, Cesare Zavattini, with whom he first found his authentic voice in I Bambini ci Guardano, (The Children Are Watching Us, 1943), would follow him into obscurity. Their commitment to examining the lives of the poor was derived from their devotion to Communism, which Mussolini helped arouse, and which a crippled economy after the war allowed to blossom into what is probably the single most important movement in film – only later to be codified by the term neo-realism.

Neo-realism would quickly become a political, as well as an artistic, creed. Every Italian film was scrutinized for its fidelity to an inviolate code. What saved De Sica from becoming merely doctrinaire, and what would arouse the disfavor of doctrinaire Italian critics, was his unflinching honesty and his unwavering compassion for what most of us have since forgotten – the “invisible ones” who unwittingly fell through the cracks in our universe: the shoeshine boys of Rome; a paper-hanger who has to sell his nuptial linen to buy a bicycle; an orphan boy whose only escape from a Milanese shanty town is with an enchanted dove; an old man driven to beg for a few lire so that his dog can have a saucer of milk. It is the measure of the humanity of any age if it can sometimes find its heroes in such company.

The Film
By Peter von Bagh.  Translated by Antti Alanen. 

These notes first appeared in the catalogue for Il Cinema Ritrovato 2023 published by the Cineteca Di Bologna and reprinted here by kind permission.

Sergei Eisenstein emphasized “the look of the child” in his essay Charlie the Kid. That is also the core of the mise-en-scène of Vittorio De Sica in his first three significant films as a director (I bambini ci guardano, Sciuscià, Ladri di biciclette) and to some extent his fourth one, Miracolo a Milano.
In Sciuscià, war, having brought about a huge growth of the lumpenproletariat, is now being continued in other forms, as a street war in the urban jungle. Situations that the state, the bureaucracy and the prison system submit people to that are profoundly and inhumanly absurd with respect to the look of the child.
Whereas the accusation in I bambini ci guardano was directed at the parents, it is here transferred to the machinery of the society. Against the background of a cruel statement is a constantly marvellous purity of observation. When a film screening – consisting of poor war newsreels – takes place at the prison, a little tubercular boy is ecstatic: “There is the ocean”. He has but a few more moments to live. The ephemeral moving image may amount to next to nothing, but filtered through the boy’s consciousness, this flash of nature recorded on film becomes durable testimony that life is precious and even the most disadvantaged person has not lived in vain.

The true subject matter of Sciuscià is the friendship of Pasquale and Giuseppe. It sustains insurmountable adversities and finally transcends a death that happens by accident and is pitilessly cruel in its very arbitrariness. The depth of the emotion between the boys – testified to by the destructive intensity of their conflict – is the measure of all things.

The white horse bought by the boys signifies the absolute finality of their bond. For others it is a mere commercial contract to be brokered at will. Sciuscià is a new version about the two worlds of Jean Vigo – One, the world of the grownups and their war, fascism and corruption has been depicted in terms of a cool mundane realism, sometimes as a comic trifle; and then the world of the children is largely invisible, hidden, a dream. It can be experienced on their faces or in images conceived in the strange chiaroscuro of a legend. The vision of the two boys in the forest on the back of a white horse is like a fairytale hovering over evil times.

The Restoration
Presented by The Film Foundation and Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna. Restored in 4K by The Film Foundation and Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata in association with Orium S.A. Restoration funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation.

Director: Vittorio DE SICA | Italy | 1946 | 93 mins. | 2K Flat DCP (orig. 35mm, 1.37:1) | B&W | Mono Sd. | Italian with Eng. subtitles | (M).

Production Company: Societa Cooperativa Alfa Cinematografica | Producer: Paolo William TAMBURELLA | Script: Sergio AMIDEI & Adolfo FRANCI & Cesare Giulio VIOLA & Cesare ZAVATTINI | Photography: Anchise BRIZZI | Editor: Nicolò LAZZARI | Production Design: Ivo BATTELLI, G. LOMBARDOZZI | Sound: Tullio PARMEGIANI | Music: Alessandro CICOGNINI.

Cast: Franco INTERLENGHI (‘Pasquale Maggi’), Rinaldo SMORDONI (‘Giuseppe Filippucci’), Aniello MELE (‘Raffaele’), Bruno ORTENZI (‘Arcangeli’), Emilio CIGOLI (‘Staffera’).

Cinema Reborn acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we live, learn and work. We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.