Vittorio De Sica

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Winthrop Sargeant

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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 surroundings, while the restless eye of the camera lights on unforgettably realistic details—the litter in a slum-district gutter, a leaky faucet, flies buzzing around a sink, and everywhere the tide of grime that impoverished humanity battles against day in and day out—which give De Sica's pictures the immediacy and seriousness of life itself. Having cut through the artificialities of movie convention by presenting his audience with drab reality, De Sica proceeds to add the element that establishes him as an artist and a poet: the drama—often humorous as well as heartbreaking—of human dignity struggling and surviving amid this grinding squalor. In building up the drama, he shows a rare feeling for the awesome power of the small tragedies that plague the lives of the poor … and, as portrayed by his characters, tragedies of this kind assume heroic proportions. There is little doubt that he has a deep understanding of conflicts between pride and poverty, and he trains his camera on these conflicts, making them the principal theme of his films. (pp. 35-6)

Winthrop Sargeant, "Bread, Love, and Neo-Realismo—1," in The New Yorker (© 1957 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XXXIII, No. 19, June 29, 1957, pp. 35-58.

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