Vittorio De Sica

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Monique Fong

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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 have just emerged from the shocking experience of the war and a profound political upheaval. In these two worlds the rules of the game are entirely different, and the conflict is born of the impossibility that one group will understand and adapt itself to the rules of the other. The two worlds do not interpenetrate. They exclude each other. (p. 19)

The great strength of Vittorio De Sica and his scenarists lies in not having taken sides with either of these two worlds. The children are not idealized, nor the grown-ups satirized. Both are shown as they are. Before these boys, who are cruel, shrewd, violent, and uncompromising, looms the world of grown-ups who have been rendered powerless and indifferent by time and events, by life, dissolute men who are too weak to stand up to anything. Such a man is the prison doctor…. It is the same with the other adult characters, some of whom are little more than silhouettes and yet remain unforgettable: … above all, the two priests who give the film showing. It is not without reason that the director has shown them terrified by the fire, and their clamor for "light, light" is intentionally ironic. Through them, a whole religion is projected. It should not be forgotten that the jail is a reconstructed old convent, and the first shot we see of it a disused altar.

The children live, love, and die, but it is through the grown-ups that the dramatic conflict arises and is resolved. Grown-ups persuade Pasquale and Giuseppe to become thieves and black marketeers. Grown-ups arrest them and separate them, judge them and punish them…. It seems that Vittorio De Sica wanted to emphasize adult guilt…. (pp. 20-1)

Shoe-Shine makes an important dramatic contribution. For the first time, a film with a subject of this order has been made without becoming an accusation, a sermon, or a propaganda work. The result is that the audience is much more deeply stirred and more anxious to find a solution, although Vittorio De Sica did not even intend to indicate one. (p. 27)

Monique Fong, "'Shoe-Shine': A Student Film Analysis," in Hollywood Quarterly (copyright, 1969, by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. 4, No. 1, Fall, 1969, pp. 14-27.

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