The New Yorker:

Vittorio De Sica’s 1946 neorealist drama helped put Italian movies at the center of world cinema.

By Richard Brody

Though the Second World War continued in Europe through May, 1945, Rome was liberated from Nazi occupation in June, 1944, and most of Italy was liberated by the end of that year. Soon came a revolutionary film—Roberto Rossellini’s “Rome, Open City”—which began shooting in January, 1945, using many nonprofessional actors and filmed partly on location. The film told a story of Italian resistance to, and collaboration with, German forces, and of the joint personal and civic tragedies of the occupation. It displayed Rossellini’s art of dramatic analysis—of images as embodiments of ideas—and ushered in the movement that came to be called Italian neorealism. The film remains powerful, although it’s hard to see, now, what was revolutionary about it. Rossellini’s main accomplishment was to hold a mirror—or, rather, two mirrors—to Italian society: one that looked back to the country’s recent past and another that forced the country to confront the resulting political and moral crises of the present.

Vittorio De Sica, an actor and director, followed in the same vein with “Shoeshine,” from 1946, which is playing at Film Forum in a new restoration. The Italian title, “Sciuscià,” is a phonetic borrowing from the English word, a fact that spotlights the essence of the story, which is about the many boys who, soon after Rome’s liberation, were scrounging for cash by shining shoes—mainly the shoes of occupying American soldiers. The central crisis faced by the two boys at the heart of the film—and by pretty much everyone—is poverty, the sheer economic and material deprivations of the immediate postwar period. But the title of the film suggests another crisis: the effects of American occupation, which, however welcome it was in freeing the city and the country from Nazi tyranny, proved in other regards demoralizing and corrupting.

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