Vittorio De Sica Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.