De Sica, Vittorio
Vittorio De Sica 1902–1974
Italian director, actor, and screenwriter.
De Sica is regarded as one of the most important directors to emerge with the movement known as neorealism. This style of filmmaking emphasizes the importance of social consciousness. Using nonprofessional actors, realistic settings or location filming, and grainy film stock, De Sica employed true-to-life "newsreel" footage to investigate characters that audiences find moving and compelling. With screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, De Sica created a body of work which was most critically successful in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
De Sica was a successful stage and film actor before becoming a director. Dissatisfaction with Carmine Gallone's direction in the film Manon Lescaut led De Sica to direction, and his first film as director was Rose Scarlette in 1940. His first important film is felt to be I bambini ci guardano (The Children Are Watching Us), which portrays the breakup of a marriage through the eyes of a child. Sciuscià (Shoeshine) marked the beginning of the neorealistic movement. The film arouses the sympathies of the audience through its depiction of postwar Italy. De Sica's best-known works are Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief), Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan), and Umberto D. All of these films include elements of neorealism, although Miracle in Milan also contains dream sequences and comedy. The relationship between the individual and his social status is the dominant theme of these three films, and The Bicycle Thief is regarded by many critics as the best film to come out of neorealism.
After Umberto D., De Sica's artistic success began to decline. Even though Il tetto (The Roof) is viewed today as an engaging film, it was not successful upon release and marked De Sica's last effort in the neorealist style. De Sica made a great many films in the 1960s and early 1970s, but critics feel that these films are glossy and commercialized, and not nearly as significant as his earlier works. However, De Sica continued to act in many films and television series (which helped to finance his directorial efforts), and he enjoyed commercial success as the director of Two Women, Marriage, Italian Style, and Garden of the Finzi-Continis.
It is ironic that De Sica found his greatest commercial successes in films that are regarded as mere shadows of his neorealistic films. In fact, a few critics rate De Sica as a minor director on the basis of his later films and the lack of emotion in the directorial style of his early work. However, most feel that De Sica's and Zavattini's contributions to neo-realism are among the most successful and important innovations in film.
What is it about these Italian pictures which makes the impression they create so overwhelming? First, their tremendous actuality, second, their honesty, and third, their passionate pleading for what we have come to term the humane values. The uses of adversity are once again demonstrated: lack of money has made it necessary to shoot on real locations, against backgrounds which themselves forbid the phoney and the fake. But it is chiefly the impulse of generous and uncompromising emotion which gives to Sciuscia, as to the [Roberto] Rossellini films, a force unknown to the Warner heavy…. [The] setting of Sciuscia is contemporary, and … it has no respect for the old lies, the safe conventions. It is the story of two shoeshine boys loose in "liberated" Rome—Rome liberated not only from Fascism but also from order and security. It is the boys' highest ambition to own a horse of their own; in contriving to get hold of enough money, they become party, all but innocently, to a black market deal. They are caught by the police and, since they refuse to implicate their friends, sent to prison as juvenile delinquents.
The atmosphere of the exhausted, disintegrated city is superbly conveyed; the rough, newsreel quality of [the] photography, the sharp cutting, the abrupt naturalism of the acting persuade us that we are watching scenes as they actually take place, people as they actually are. This in itself is enough to make...
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Bicycle Thieves is a wholly satisfying film in that de Sica has so simplified and mastered the mechanics of the job that nothing stands between you and his intention. It can be likened to a painting that is formed in an intensity of concentration, and is as good as finished before it reaches the canvas. In fact, Bicycle Thieves, as a film properly should, relates to plastic and in no sense to dramatic or literary art. de Sica displays this with the opening compilation of visuals, which at once places his family in an environment of slow, sapping industrial poverty, where the bicycle and the bed linen represent the last claims of domestic pride, and where the pawnshop and the tenement fortune-teller batten on misery. It is, needless to say, a Rome the visitor sees though seldom penetrates, but where, before the war, he might have admired the triumphs of Mussolini's industrial architecture. (pp. 27-8)
[Although, by] some process of magnetism, de Sica has drawn from [the] boy an unparalleled child performance, it is the man who is his symbol of the human plight. He is the helpless individual, herded with, yet isolated from his fellows, who is caught in a situation. To de Sica and many Italians who have absorbed their Kafka and Sartre, this is the general theme of the century. It might be said to parallel the situation of Italy herself.
The story of that heartrending Sunday search after the stolen bicycle is...
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Robert F. Hawkins
Vittorio De Sica's latest film, Miracolo a Milano, is far from the "world" which he and co-scripter Cesare Zavattini described in The Bicycle Thief. In Miracolo De Sica and Zavattini leave behind the simple, direct approach to human problems, and attempt the difficult trick of marrying realism to fantasy. They almost succeed….
[This film], for better or for worse, swings heavily towards Zavattini's side. It is not De Sica's picture primarily, and when judgment is passed this proportion of paternity should be kept well in mind. (p. 26)
The authors intended Miracolo a Milano to be a fable told against a backdrop of the harsh realities of present-day Italian life. (p. 27)
What are De Sica and Zavattini trying to say?
Several themes seem to be combined. First, there is an exhortation to be simple in heart. Second, there is an assertion that the brotherhood of man, asked for in The Bicycle Thief, is able (by the aid of a miracle) to defeat power unjustly used. Third, the authors suggest that the good must seek peace and happiness elsewhere than in this world.
But De Sica and Zavattini commit a fundamental error when they try to apply to these moral problems their particular concepts of the poor. One of Zavattini's books is entitled The Poor Are Crazy (I poveri sono matti). And De Sica upheld a similar viewpoint while he was...
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Sciuscia, Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan and Umberto D. are political films in the sense that they deal with problems which are subject to legislation and political control; but they offer no solutions and propagate no specific programme. Zavattini has spoken of the new style as "a moral discovery, an appeal to order" and the films themselves bear out that the impulse behind them is primarily a moral one. What remains remarkable about them as a group is that their moral passion, which was born of the war and could find expression only after the release from fascism, has grown in intensity with every film. (pp. 87-8)
De Sica's extraordinary tact with people enables him to get performances that are always real and dignified. Whether they are more than this must depend on the players chosen and in Umberto D. they sometimes fall short. In the scenes demanding strong emotional reactions, de Sica's unadorned method of observation occasionally leaves the players, as it were, too much on their own in the centre of the screen.
The best scenes in Umberto D. … have a purity of effect which gives them, in context, a profound poetic intensity. Although the episodes mount, in a dramatic sense, slowly, there is behind them a kind of passionate identification with the characters' human predicament which creates an extraordinary concentration. De Sica has brought his subject to the screen with a...
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George N. Fenin
In my opinion, [Umberto D.] represents undoubtedly the apex of what can be considered the first phase of the Italian neorealism; it is also the closest and most precious attempt at "filmed life."…
In Umberto D. the symbiosis of Zavattini and De Sica has reached the most perfect fusion of style and message. The escapism of Miracle in Milan, the workman's tragedy in Bicycle Thief has risen to the pathos of loneliness in Umberto D. The film maintains the dignity of an art without compromise as it reflects the anguished conditions in post-war Italy. The pessimism is gradual. The squatters of Miracle in Milan do have hope and fly with their brooms to "where good morning really means good morning;" the unemployed Lamberto Meggiorani of Bicycle Thief is, on the other hand, shaken by despair; still, he is young and strong and his wife and son are symbols to justify his future renewal of a struggle for life.
But the pensioned civil servant of Umberto D. is alone, desperately alone. He is an old man whose mission in this life is finished…. But he is, above all, a human being, representing a category of the underprivileged, whose unjust treatment casts a terrible verdict of guilt upon an indifferent society, practising that egotism that Schopenhauer rightly defined as the "unmeasurable ruler of the world." And the passivity … of Umberto dramatizes authentically the...
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[Umberto D.] may easily be construed as an artless and unbuttered slice of life, a testimony of "naturalism": ostensibly a method of expressing reality without inhibition, without overtones and as far as possible without style. Nothing could be further from the case. Like Shoe Shine or Bicycle Thief, and with justification even more subtle, De Sica's Umberto D.—a masterpiece of compassion …—might be termed super-naturalism if this compound had not been preempted for another kind of experience entirely. The fidelity of De Sica's attention to the plight of the man, Umberto, realistic in its living details, is enriched by a host of modulations working under and through the story line, so delicately registered as to be imperceptible save to that second awareness evoked from most spectators without their being able to define it. Cinematically created, these modulations are not arresting, since they accumulate from thematic relationships in the scenario. De Sica's use of the camera is clear-eyed, rather than ingenuous. As in his other naturalist films, his cinematographer [G. R. Aldo] … is not called upon to exhibit striking angles or movement: De Sica's compositions rarely startle one by their ingenuity. What he focuses on at a given point is more significant than the way he focuses. The way is never neglected, it simply isn't exploited; for it is to De Sica's purpose to move with un-elliptical life as...
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[The] credit line "Directed by Vittorio De Sica" has so far been reserved almost entirely for the pictures, like "Shoe-Shine," into which he has poured the enthusiasm and ingenuity of a fervent artist, in the belief that in them alone lies his chance for a distinguished place in the history of his craft. These films, so startlingly different from the ones that De Sica acts in for other producers, deal for the most part with serious subjects—notably, the subject of poverty, omnipresent in Italy—and they contrive to temper the uncompromising realism of documentaries with a compassionate humanity not often found in the output of the cinema industry. Probably not more than two of these films have been anything like financial successes, one reason being that most Italians, who willingly pay millions of lire to clap and bravo over the merest flick of De Sica the actor's eyebrow, thoroughly detest the most eloquent creations of De Sica the director. "Why do you have to show Italy in rags?" is typical of the criticisms he gets from his otherwise adoring fellow-countrymen. (p. 35)
The basis of the appeal that these De Sica-directed films have for an international audience is clear enough: They avoid the clichés of movie-making. In large measure, this is because their casts hardly ever include professional actors…. [They play their] roles not on studio sets but in actual alleys, rundown apartment houses, and similarly forlorn...
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Il Tetto (The Roof) is the latest result of the fruitful collaboration between Vittorio deSica and Cesare Zavattini. It is only four years old but, except for its smooth technical finish, it seems much older. The story of a young newly married couple who are forced by poverty and family circumstances to join a squatters' colony (similar to the one in Miracle in Milan) which exists on the edge of Rome, it is, perhaps, too obviously the sort of material which might be expected to engage the sympathies of deSica and Zavattini. (p. 49)
The curious failure of Il Tetto brings up once again the old fundamental distinction between art and life, if only because it is on a version of this distinction that Zavattini bases his artistic credo as a film-maker: "In most films, the adventures of two people looking for somewhere to live, for a house, would be shown externally in a few moments of action, but for us it could provide the scenario for a whole film, and we would explore all its echoes, all its implications." The actual facts of daily life become, then, not a premise for dramatic extension, but the drama itself. "All its echoes, all its implications" are therefore the perceptible social, economic, political, and moral reverberations which are revealed in the most ordinary acts of men and women. This philosophy of the film, which derives from an attitude toward life, Zavattini long ago christened neorealism…. As an...
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Although Vittorio De Sica's Il Tetto comes late to Britain and belongs very firmly to the neo-realist tradition that one had been inclined to consider out-moded, there is an undeniable freshness about it which takes no heed of fashion, and its story of a young couple in Rome who seek a roof over their heads is as persuasive and heart-felt as anything De Sica has given us.
This is, of course, one of the films he really wanted to make, and the kind for which he labours cheerfully as an actor in other director's films, some of them quite trivial. Il Tetto involves, so we gather, not a personal financial risk but a true sense of dedication.
It could be said that Zavattini's script piles on the agony: not exaggerating, perhaps, but certainly making the utmost of the predicament in hand. Yet as the unhappy, impoverished pair try to reconcile themselves to life in a two-room apartment overflowing with relatives, as they search in vain for something, and as they make their desperate bid to assemble four brick walls on wasteland overnight before the police arrive at dawn to demolish such semi-illegal dwellings unless they are quite complete, the truth De Sica draws from every single actor in his cast is far stronger than the sentimentality of the tale he tells.
Not for the first time he plucks from poverty, and in one memorable passage when the newly-married couple have to bed down in a room...
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The sentimentality which many critics have felt in Bicycle Thieves arises, I feel, from the unresolved contradictions set up by its two themes. Ostensibly a protest against degrading social and economic conditions, this theme is never more than a cover or excuse for the theme of solidarity against loneliness, in which De Sica and Zavattini are really involved emotionally. Their embarrassment at this confusion can best be seen at the climax of the film. This, oddly enough, is not the moment of degradation when the father is caught stealing the bicycle, but the moment when the father strikes his son, and then suspects the child has been drowned (symbolically suggesting that he has killed the son himself); and it is a crisis filmed in a nervous, tentative way—almost as if the editor had had to work with insufficient material.
The confusion here arises, I believe, because De Sica and Zavattini are unable to give their central theme a socially realistic significance and have had to tack it on to the bicycle story; which is in itself an excellent idea, but one too slight to bear the weight of much social comment…. In Bicycle Thieves [determinism] is used—unsuccessfully, I feel—to merge together the two themes.
The trick, though, which has I think most fuddled critics into thinking this is a film of protest is the repeated shift to the child at moments of crisis: we look at the world through his eyes....
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Watching Two Women is like being at the burial of two friends. From neo-realism to neo-decadence, the Zavattini-De Sica life cycle has been spent. That is, providing De Sica wants us to take this work seriously and not, as has often had to be the case in the past, as one of his money-making chores with which to finance such works of distinguished genius as Umberto-D. The re-union with Za, the overall obsession with attacks of fascism and the church, the distinguished original of [an Alberto] Moravia novel … I can only believe it is intended as more than a routine chore.
What, then, has gone wrong?
The story line is simple and direct…. Superficially it is dreadful novelette; but Zavattini has pressed it to serve him almost as De Sade with Justine, as a skeleton on which to hang the philosophy of fatalism, that there is no escaping evil so the sensible person accepts it and compromises with it. If this is not what Za is trying to say, then I am wrong; the film is not to be taken seriously!…
De Sica directs with a glossy professionalism that has the hard-stare of Hollywood instead of the warm-heart of Rome. His locations are authentic enough, but failing to come to grips with his story and characters he goes all out to get the gaudy facade right, and leaves the heart empty….
De Sica having failed to do a De Sade would nearly have done a De Mille (it has all...
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[In La Ciociara (Two Women), De Sica] is less than ever concerned directly with the fate of a single class; more than ever and with more driving force than ever before, concerned with the fate of people. As before, however, his generalization is absorbed in the particular through that reconciliation of intense compassion with scrupulous objectivity which is his personal genius—and the particular, in the person of Cisera, the widow from Ciociaria, cries aloud that in "one world" there is no place to hide….
It's inseparable from the De Sica view that misery must love company, in order to purge and renew itself. Faced with a condition wherein the church stands stripped, our brothers-in-arms are rapists, the Communist at home is wide of the human mark, and dead cyclists rot in the postcard landscape, the surviving individual can only turn to something he can cherish—and may God help those who have nobody to help. (p. 15)
A De Sica film makes demands on one's talent for simplicity, since it deceptively appears to have no style; for style is the integration of an artist's temperament in the form of his art, and the De Sica film is one in which as far as possible the eye behind the camera betrays no consciousness of itself. Which is why De Sica baffles the aesthetic analyst: he directs one's own eye not toward art but toward life, thereby making pronouncements on the art nearly superfluous. We know...
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John Russell Taylor
If we would rush to see new films by [Federico] Fellini, [Luchino] Visconti and De Sica, should we not rush with even more enthusiasm to get the three for the price of one? Perhaps we might, but if we do we shall be disappointed [in Boccaccio 70]. The three stories have only the vague and hopeful connection with Boccaccio that they are all faintly saucy, one being comic, one fantastic would-be satirical, and one sentimental. None of the directors is anywhere near his best and De Sica, as a matter of fact, is (one hopes) absolutely at his worst….
De Sica's episode, The Raffle, is an attempt to do Sophia Loren's pizza-seller bit from L'Oro di Napoli over again in colour and wide screen…. [De Sica is not much] of a comedy director; he can manage the light fantastic of Miracle in Milan, but the spirit of broad rustic farce eludes him, and a lot of frantic rushing round and face-making on the screen proves no substitute for real lightness of touch on the camera. (p. 91)
John Russell Taylor, "Film Reviews: 'Boccaccio 70'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1963 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 32, No. 2, Spring, 1963, pp. 91-2.
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John Francis Lane
[Carlo Ponti, the producer of The Condemned of Altona, should have realised that Vittorio De Sica was the wrong person to tackle Les Sequestres D'Altona, Jean-Paul Sartre's] penetrating play about the German problem….
Altona is a typical example of how Rome is trying to copy the Hollywood formula, and is not getting away with it. De Sica and Zavattini are too sensitive and intelligent to be able to make films in [this] manner…. (p. 131)
De Sica, who nowadays seems to accept directorial assignments as casually as he once accepted acting roles in every other film, deserves most of the creative blame. After all, he is still one of the world's top ten living film-makers. In order to get Altona into movement, he and his director of photography, Roberto Gerardi, have captured some magnificent outdoor shots of Hamburg. By far the best thing in the film is the opening….
And at the end of the film, in substitution for the brilliant confrontation between father and son which was the most important scene in the play, the two men drive down to the docks. They stop at a level-crossing and Franz smiles ironically as he sees a goods train with tanks and armoured cars pass by. From the top of a tower overlooking the whole Gerlach empire, Franz shouts the line about taking the responsibility of the century upon his shoulders. Then he and his father come crashing down to their death....
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Although De Sica's Altona is a muddled piece of film-making, lunging erratically from melodrama to neo-realism, it retains the dramatic onslaught of Sartre's play. Essentially, of course, it is a thing of theatre, too organised and extravagant at any rate to belong in De Sica's kind of cinema. But the problems that form its core are vital and thought-worthy, and the acting … is outstanding. (p. 21)
[The] direction is all over the place. De Sica is strong whenever he has an opportunity to expand into real exteriors: at the industrialist's shipyard there is some fine visual stuff high up amid the scaffolding, and there is a good bit when the recluse finally ventures out into the world and beholds the shocking sight of a Hamburg shop-window full of good food. But inside the house, where much of the time is spent, things are awkward. The discovery of the secret in the attic calls for a suspense prelude which De Sica soft-pedals lamentably, and there are far too many routine visuals everywhere but in the attic. There the walls provide their own nervy atmosphere, because they are covered with haunting sketches of nazi victims, and De Sica sets his actors off-centre against these walls with a melodramatic flourish that suits the occasion. A similar flourish was needed throughout the entire film, but it is attained only fitfully….
It is an instinct for restraint that sets the film so often against the grain of...
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"We are showing three divergent views of Italy today, cutting across the entire social scale," explains De Sica of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. "Although different in time and place, the three episodes are bound together by universal qualities of humor, humanity and compassion and hopefully stand for modern society everywhere."
De Sica and his scenarists have fabricated a largely successful entertainment, but his statement about the film is pompous (so unlike De Sica). Humor he gives us, and I suppose, "humanity" (whatever that is); but of compassion there is not a trace, nor need there be for such a charming, light-hearted work; finally, the characters and situations appear, in many ways, uniquely Italian and seem not at all to "stand for modern society everywhere." De Sica is making an extravagant claim for what is simply a highly polished, slick, fast sex comedy. (p. 43)
Gordon Hitchens, "Film Reviews: 'Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow'," in Film Comment (copyright © 1964 by Lorien Productions, Inc.; all rights reserved), Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter, 1964, pp. 43-4.
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It is true that Vittorio De Sica's work has deteriorated considerably in the past decade. But it is also, I would submit, still equally true that both the overall body of his films and his best pictures (Bicycle Thieves, Miracolo a Milano, Umberto D, and to a somewhat lesser extent I Bambini Ci Guardano), remain fully worthy of comparison with those of Antonioni, Visconti or Fellini….
Made under Fascist rule, I Bambini Ci Guardano (1943) was regarded at the time of its issue as being sufficiently dangerous in its implied criticisms of contemporary Italian morals to be banned from showing outside Rome: and even today, the fame of De Sica's later pictures has overshadowed it…. [Within] this comparatively early work are already displayed the mature qualities of technical assurance and psychological penetration which were to produce the post-war masterpieces.
I Bambini … is domestic tragedy, as distinct from the economic tragedy of Bicycle Thieves or the human tragedy of Umberto: and it may be argued with a measure of truth that De Sica's genius loses something of its essential character when not directly involved with the stiffening hardships of Italian life which he was subsequently so unforgettably to depict.
There is, indeed, at moments in the film a certain unaccustomed romanticism of style: a preoccupation, for example, with opportunities for...
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According to Stanley Kauffmann, scriptwriter Cesare Zavattini and director Vittorio de Sica got their ideas for depicting contemporary youth in A Young World by visiting the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris and there looking at nouvelle vagueeries.
Critic Kauffmann regards as sad this stategem by which two sixty-four-year-olds hoped to disguise the second-hand quality of their projected truckle to the most numerous portion of today's movie-goers (the young).
I don't think it's any sadder than what de Sica and Zavattini have been doing throughout their entire collaboration, and in saying this I do include Shoeshine, The Bicycle Thief, Miracle in Milan, Umberto D and all their other films. Seen today, without the intellectual hoopla with which they were launched, and subsequently promoted in leftist-dominated film societies, all Zavattini-Sica films have the same basic faults as their latest, A Young World, does—i.e., a conscienceless use of hackneyed sentimentality peppered with slogans and "business" calculated to win friends in Left, Right and Center, the Church, and every minority. (p. 380)
[If] you'd really like to know the lengths to which Zavattini and de Sica go to recruit any organized group in support of their films, study the abortionists in A Young World. They are lesbians. Having lesbians be abortionists will amuse a certain sector...
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It is important that the audience be taken unawares by Shoe-Shine, that it should experience fear and hope and be unable to guess the outcome of the story.
It is a story that unfolds before our eyes; the children caught in it do not realize what is happening to them…. [They] do not try to express themselves nor even to influence their own lives. It is their innocence, in fact, that creates the story and makes it great. (p. 17)
Since Shoe-Shine is neither an accusation nor a propaganda work, we are spared a "crucial point." The story simply proceeds, step by step, until there is nothing further to narrate. Great skill is shown in putting the single moral-bearing sentence of the story—"If these children have become what they are, it is because we have failed to keep them what they are supposed to be"—into the mouth of the corrupt lawyer, a man to whom lying is a profession and whom we saw, just a moment earlier, falsely accusing Pasquale in order to save his own client. (pp. 17-18)
In Shoe-Shine the concern is to create an atmosphere and to win the audience through conviction. (p. 18)
[Two] distinct worlds come face to face, the world of children and the world of grown-ups. If there were only the children's world, there would be no dramatic impact, no tragedy. But the picture deals with children who come into conflict with grown-ups, and with grown-ups who...
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["The Garden of the Finzi Continis"] is certainly the best film that Vittorio De Sica has made in years, but the shabby habits he acquired when directing such things as "Sunflower" and "A Place for Lovers" keep intruding upon this new, much more ambitious work to render it less affecting than it has every right to be.
Mr. De Sica's way with end-of-an-era romance is to shoot almost everything in soft focus, as if he didn't trust the validity of the emotions in what seems to be a perfectly decent screenplay. The film's mood of impending doom is not discovered by the viewer, but imposed on him, by a syrupy musical score and by a camera that keeps panning to and from the sky, and shots of the sun, seen through the same sort of treetops that hover over the actors in the world of Newport cigarettes.
This is particularly frustrating because it has the effect of constantly reducing and denying the complexities of the characters and the performances….
["The Garden of the Finzi Continis"] is a very melancholy movie, but its sentiments are essentially those contained on Micol's 78 r.p.m. recording of Tommy Dorsey's "Getting Sentimental Over You." They are prettily expressed but not profoundly moving.
Vincent Canby, "Screen: 'Garden of the Finzi Continis'," in The New York Times (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 17, 1971...
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I love Vittorio De Sica's films of his best period, from the end of World War II to 1952, preeminently The Bicycle Thief and Miracle in Milan…. But I don't like The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. It attempts a serious theme and is neither good art nor good show biz. (pp. 95-6)
The subject of the Jews under Mussolini has never been the main matter of a film, as far as I know; it's an interesting idea and I wish the result had been better. The fundamental flaw is the script.
The story is about the love of a middle-class Jewish youth for the Finzi-Contini daughter and her inability to return anything but sisterly love. So the chief motions of the plot are utterly divorced from the theme. There are plenty of peripheral incidents that deal with growing Fascist oppression, but the plot is simply not an engine of the idea; it's only a time-filler, to plug the gap between the seeming safety of 1938 and the inevitabilities of 1943. The boy-girl story, as such, could have been between Catholics in Brazil.
De Sica has lavishly contributed shortcomings of his own. Nothing that can be sugared is left plain. The camera zooms as if this were the first time he had directed and he couldn's get over his delight with lenses. The colors are like endless boxes of candied fruit. The editing flutters with nervousness, and that weariest of pastoral shots, the camera looking upward as it moves along...
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The late Vittorio De Sica was a fine artist, a polished hack, and a flabby whore—not necessarily in that order. His film career, as director and actor, was neither a slide nor an ascent: it simply varied. From a beginning in flossy drivel during the early 1930s he moved to his best films between 1946 and 1952 (The Bicycle Thief, Miracle in Milan, Umberto D.) and moved from them to too wide a range of quality. Much of his subsequent directing was not even shown in this country…. He surfaced again as a fine director with Two Women in 1961, then in 1972 he made another serious attempt with The Garden of the Finzi-Continis—unsuccessful, I think….
A Brief Vacation is billed as his last film. Last or not, it's very pleasant, not at his best level yet with a lot in it that shows the experience of a gifted man….
A Brief Vacation states, strongly, some early De Sica-Zavattini social concerns, then softens them a bit, although the color photography … is much less soppy than in Finzi-Continis….
The romance is the weakest part of the film, both because the role of the ailing mechanic is played by a man who is only a good-looking actor and because that whole narrative strand is handled with constraint and embarrassment. The gallery of women patients is rather obviously selected and balanced; it's not a Magic Mountain, only a modestly magic molehill. But the...
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Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.
When Vittorio De Sica died a few months ago, he had just released a last film which is remarkable because it could easily have been his first film. It has been a quarter of a century since De Sica did his classic work—Shoeshine, The Bicycle Thief, Umberto D—as part of the Neo-Realist movement in Italy. Yet this final film, A Brief Vacation, again renews and extends the vision that those Neo-Realist films established as De Sica's own. Whereas most of De Sica's earlier films deal with periods of extreme adversity in their characters' lives, this film is about a period of relative happiness. But this doesn't represent any basic change in De Sica's sentiments. His films have always suggested a sort of two-sidedness to human experience. Often in the earlier films, the only thing that mitigates for us the characters' suffering is the implication that life at its best is not really much different from what it is at its worst. A Brief Vacation may show us the other side of the picture, but it is the same picture De Sica had been painting since he began as a director. (p. 19)
The parallel construction that De Sica put on Clara's story binds her present happiness to her past unhappiness. It makes us see the two as inseparable. The one condition can never escape its association with the other. The parallel construction is also typical of the way De Sica always expressed this sense he had of life. In Umberto D there...
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Neo-realism lives again in an opening sequence [of Una Breve Vacanza (A Brief Vacation)] where De Sica and Zavattini perpetrate another of those familiarly strident tableaux in which an Italian family swap vociferous recriminations amid the squalor of a cramped and rancid apartment. 'Lives', however, is hardly the word for the larger-than-life melodramatics resuscitated here, and Breve Vacanza is as dead as a doornail from the word go. Arguably, this opening sequence might be marginally more affecting were it not subjected to the grotesque distortions of dubbing, but nothing could save the fiction that follows from looking like anything other than a masturbatory fantasy by courtesy of women's lib. Clara's translation from the stews and sweatshops of Milan to a never-never mountain sanatorium whose main preoccupation appears to be romance rather than health, is really just the old Hollywood myth of the ugly duckling who becomes beautiful simply by taking her glasses off told all over again; and the characters who surround our Cinderella, from Prince Charming to ogre husband by way of the respectfully worshipful doctor, are all culled from the stereotypes of women's magazines.
Tom Milne, "'Una breve vacanza' ('A Brief Vacation')," in Monthly Film Bulletin (copyright © The British Film Institute, 1975), Vol. 42, No. 496, May, 1975, p. 101.
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In common with many other great men, Vittorio de Sica … had a chronic weakness that was as disorienting to him as a whiff of booze can be to the alcoholic. Mr. De Sica, the social critic ("The Bicycle Thief") with an immense talent for comedy as both an actor ("It Started in Naples") and as a director ("Marriage Italian-Style"), was from time to time subject to fits of teary sentimentality that upset his balance and completely dissolved his judgment.
As a sentimentalist Mr. De Sica never went on a bender by himself. He surrounded himself with friends, as if the making of these ponderously romantic movies were really occasions of great conviviality. Perhaps they were, though it never shows in the completed pictures….
That "The Voyage," which Mr. De Sica made the year before he died, is only now reaching us is not difficult to understand. The film … has the manner of something out of sync with itself and the world around it….
Nothing in the movie fits. The casting of two extremely English actors as Sicilian aristocrats need not have been ludicrous…. (p. 255)
The English-language screenplay … is chock full of the kind of lines you haven't heard since Andrew and Virginia Stone penned their screen version of "Song of Norway."
Some are funny … but most are simply out of touch with the feelings and emotions the movie should be dealing in. (p. 256)...
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In some ways it is humiliating that De Sica should go out with such a whimper [with The Voyage]. His career, between the highlights of Shoe Shine and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, could be described as a march from the Paris theatre to Third Avenue in popularizing both neo-realism and the modern commercial Italian film; he was conqueror of the Bloomingdale's gold coast and standard bearer of the New York art house during its many crises of identity. But those days are gone forever, and The Voyage, a sedate jewel of a film, is one of De Sica's quietest, least compromising works….
"The voyage" itself refers to Cesare and Adriana's journey for a cure, their first chance to discover themselves. It is an ominous time when World War I headlines are announcing the end of La Belle Epoch. From Sicilian villas through Neapolitan night spots and onto the grand hotels of the Venetian Canals, the voyage progresses through a stately historical panorama. De Sica's savoring en route of a [Georges] Melies film and the French Can Can reveal, somewhat, his cultural preoccupations in an otherwise uncommonly discreet film of thwarted emotions. Fortunately, the [film] is as ravishing as the opulent sets. In the De Sica legacy, perhaps this is the one film he conceived of as fit for mounting under a crystal jar. We are invited more to a formal objet d'art, a stereopticon of a passing age, than to a melodrama....
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