Vittorio De Sica

Start Free Trial

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 is a moment when Umberto looks out the window of the lodgings from which he is being evicted and contemplates suicide. The camera assumes a point-of-view shot, showing us the street as Umberto sees it, and then suddenly zooms down on the cobblestones below as if Umberto were jumping. But he hasn't jumped, and the next morning when he leaves, as he looks up at his room one last time from the street, the camera again assumes a point-of-view shot. Now the shot inverts what Umberto saw the night before and controverts the finality of what he felt. That matched pair of shots, like all the matched episodes in Clara's story, sustains a kind of momentum in life, a capacity for simple endurance, which seems for De Sica to transcend all other emotions.

All De Sica's great films have been stories of how people either exercise or acquire this capacity to endure, and the reason all his characters have needed such a capacity is that they have all been exiles in life, outsiders who had no choice except to endure hardship. Umberto turned out of his rooms, Antonio turned out of his job in The Bicycle Thief, the Finzi-Continis turned out of their garden, Clara turned out of the sanitarium: what they all share is the fate of being dispossessed, disenfranchised, cut off, stranded.

Clara is an outsider in both her own family and the sanitarium where she momentarily escapes from that family. At home, her husband, his brother and his mother all suck the life out of her by their loveless dependence. But at the sanitarium she is from the beginning just as much an outsider, for the whole premise of such a place is that one should want to leave it. All her friends want to do so, but she of course would like to stay. Precisely because of the happiness the sanitarium affords her, Clara is really alienated there as she was at home. The fact is that the only society into which Clara really fits, the only decent company for her to keep, is that of Umberto, Antonio and all the other extraordinary, lonely figures with whom De Sica peopled the screen. (pp. 19-20)

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr., "The Screen," in Commonweal (copyright © 1975 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. CII, No. 1, March 28, 1975, pp. 19-20.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Stanley Kauffmann


Tom Milne