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In post WWII Italy, Giuseppe and Pasquale work on the street shining the shoes of American troops. But when the boys are falsely accused of a crime, they are sent to a brutal state juvenile detention center. Directed by Academy Award winner Vittorio De Sica.
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Shoeshine has the distinction of being the very first film to win an Academy Award for best foreign film in 1946, when no Academy Awards for foreign films existed! There was not an Academy Awards classification for foreign films until 1956 !! Shoeshine was also well received at the Cannes film festival. The cinematographer, Gianpiero Brunetta remarked that this was quite a statement, since the French still harbored a lot of hostility towards the Italians after the war. Regardless of this animosity, many French film makers embraced the concept of neorealism immediately.
What is a neorealist film? As an amateur, I will do my best to describe what it is, using Shoeshine as an example. A neorealist film uses a natural background as opposed to a studio one. Amateur actors are used and the topic usually involves simple stories in a simple, somewhat impoverished setting. To enhance the simple stories, the use of camera positions and the subject's relationship to the camera are also important factors. For example, Nannarella, a frail little girlfriend of Giuseppe, is filmed walking away from the camera to the other side of the street. In a way, she could represent the rebirth of Italy after having just freed herself from fascism. In another scene, this same girl is seen looking forlorned as her two friends, Giuseppe and Pasquale are being driven away to the youth detention center. Her eyes are fixed on the lens as she is filmed walking towards the camera as the camera moves away from her. It is almost as though the camera lens has become the boys' eyes. There are many other examples of the neorealist style on this film, so I will allow you to discover where they are on your own.
Enjoy this masterpiece!
In other words, this is "neorealism" with a fairly conventional face. A sentimental film about boys in a destructive environment. The police, teh wardens, the judges, and the lawyers are all despicable, sadistic martinets. Who could call that either "new" or radical? But it's a good piece of film-making despite its thin content. The boys, not professional actors, are amazingly convincing, both in speech and in movement, which one has to credit to the directorial craft of Vittorio de Sica. The script is tight; in fact, it was nominated for a separate Oscar for screen-writing. The black-and-white photography is crisp and elegant, and this restoration from 2001 has captured its visual beauties. So it seems that "neorealismo" wasn't incompatible with fairly straightforward entertainment.
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