“In here they feed us, they shelter us, they give us clothes, and they even entertain us. What else could we want? This is paradise!”
‘Shoeshine’, directed by Vittorio De Sica in 1946, is an Italian neorealist movie from the director of ‘Umberto D.’, ‘Bicycle Thieves’ and ‘Two Women’. Rinaldo Smordoni and Franco Interlenghi play Giuseppe and Pasquale, two young friends who work shining shoes to earn money to pay for a horse. They become tangled up in a burglary and are arrested. They are sent to a detention centre where they are separated and tricked into confessing. When they both escape in a chaotic break-out, they turn on one another with tragic consequences. It’s a poignant film that focuses on the innocence of the two boys, their simple desires and their close relationship. It’s close in character to François Truffaut’s ‘The 400 Blows’ with the same narrative arc and the same sense of tragedy, but De Sica pushes this darkness to the maximum. This film is considered to be, along with Luchino Visconti’s ‘Ossessione’ and Rosselini’s ‘Rome, Open City’ one of the first Italian neorealist films, and here the realism serves to ‘earth’ the narrative and to focus attention on the plight of the boys. It’s a story told from their level, but also one that says more the simply telling the story of the two individuals. Like ‘Umberto D.’, a film that dissects the condition of the elderly in the post-war Italian society, ‘Shoeshine’ examines the other end of life in the same compassionate way. It’s as much a film about the decaying state of the nation as it is about Giuseppe and Pasquale.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a classic that works on many levels and it has a real heart. Watch in a double bill with ‘Umberto D.’ for the complete picture.