Oscar: Shoeshine, First Foreign-Language Award Winner

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Italy (Sciuscia)

"Shoeshine," Vittorio de Sica's second film, was the first popular success of the Italian neorealistic movement, spearheaded by Roberto Rossellini a year earlier with "Roma, Open City," straring Anna Magnani. "Shoeshine" won the Oscar Award for Best Foreign Film in 1946, before a competitive category was established in the 1950s.
 
De Sica made his debut in 1942 with "The Children Are Watching Us" ("I bambini ci quardano"), which was released in the U.S. decades after it had been made. Along with Rossellini, he was a major force of the neorealistic cinema, working within its traditions and boundaries for a decade or so, contributing such seminal films as "The Bicycle Thief" (1948), "Miracle in Milan" (1950) and "Umberto D." (1951).
 
Most of these films are committed to a heightened degree of realism, through the depiction of relevant social themes (poverty, unemployment, alientaion), on-location shooting, and the use of ordinary people in lieu of professional actors. It is therefore not surprising that they achieved greater critical accalim and commercial popularity outside Italy than at home.
 
Cesare Zavattini, the leading theoretician of the movement, who became De Sica's longtime collaborator, wrote the screenplay, which concerns two poor shoeshine boys, who are best friends. A bleak tale of the corruption of innocence in Nazi-occupied Rome, the tale centers on Pasquale and Giuseppe (Rinaldo Smordoni and Franco Interlenghi), who become involved in a black-market deal in an effort to buy horses. Caught, they are sent to prison, where one inadvertently betrays the other and is later killed by him in revenge. The story begins and ends with the image of a horse, a free spirit whose final escape symbolizes the end of friendship.
 
The great French critic Andre Bazin once observed that "De Sica's characters are lit from within by the tenderness he feels for them," and that while "Rossellini's style is a way of seeing, De Sica's is primarily a way of feeling." For him, De Sica was "one of those directors whose entire talent derives from the love they have for their subject, from their ultimate understanding of it."
 
By today's standards, "Shoeshine" is a bit sentimental, melodramatic, and lacking the clarity and style of "The Bicycle Thief," but it has largely retains its emotional power: The candid depiction of the physical and mental injuries inflected on children in a war-devastated, dislocated and dishumanized society is still touching.
 
Cast:
 
Rinaldo Smordoni and Franco Interlenghi.
 
Running Time:
 
93 Minutes.