Shoeshine / Sciuscia (1944)

“I know he’s a delinquent, a scoundrel — but he’s your brother!”

Synopsis:
In post-WWII Italy, a homeless teenager (Franco Interlenghi) and his friend (Rinaldo Smordoni) shine the shoes of American G.I.s while saving money to buy a beloved horse. To get the last payment required, they assist Smordoni’s brother in selling a pair of stolen American blankets, but are caught and sent to prison, where their friendship and loyalty are quickly tested under the strain of the harsh environment.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that “Vittorio De Sica’s first major film” — a “classic of Italian neorealism” — is “one of the most powerful social dramas in cinema history”. He notes that while the movie is “unsparingly harsh” (De Sica “wanted to show how postwar Italian society was insensitive to the plight of the poor”), it “also has a tender, poetic quality”, and he posits that we “feel tremendous sympathy for Pasquale [Interlenghi] and Giuseppe [Smordoni],” “inseparable pals” who “are ignored by society and are at the mercy of the times”. He points out that we “understand their fears, confusion, desperation, misplaced anger, and worry about being betrayed by the only person they love (each other)”.

I agree with Peary on most of these major points, yet wouldn’t quite assert that Shoeshine has held its place as one of the “most powerful social dramas in cinema history”. Indeed, in comparison with more recent, no-holds-barred films like the Brazilian social drama City of God (2002) — or its earlier counterpart, Pixote (1981)Shoeshine‘s storyline comes across as both contrived and highly scripted. Once the boys enter into a “brutal, corrupt reform school”, the plot eventually turns into a youthful variation on a Mafia flick, as familial loyalty and the fatal costs of betrayal become central themes. With that said, Anchise Brizzi’s cinematography on the streets of Rome remains noteworthy, and the lead performances are impressively natural. While it’s not must-see viewing, film fanatics will likely be curious to see this precursor to De Sica’s best-known neo-realistic classic, The Bicycle Thief (1948).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Natural performances by Interlenghi and Smordoni
  • Fine neo-realist cinematography on the streets of Rome

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a look simply to see the evolution of De Sica’s neo-realist sensibilities.

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One Response to “Shoeshine / Sciuscia (1944)”

  1. Rather in agreement here – not a must, though it is not a bad film. In what would later become typical De Sica style, it is simplicity at its most moving. The director’s uncomplicated focus is on two unfortunates and how they navigate their relationship in an uncaring world.

    Covering territory similar to ‘Pixote’, I agree it is not as powerful as that film (it couldn’t be, given when it was made). However, since most of the film is set in prison – and from the way it is filmed, ‘Shoeshine’ bears an uncanny resemblance to Babenco’s ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’.

    I don’t find the film particularly “contrived” – I buy into it. But De Sica would go on to make films more memorable.

    (Of course, Interlenghi went on to become a major European star, having one of his best roles in Fellini’s ‘I Vitelloni’. Smordoni, on the other hand, soon left the film industry, apparently.)

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