Two shoeshine boys in postwar Rome, Italy, save up to buy a horse, but their involvement as dupes in a burglary lands them in juvenile prison where the experience take a devastating toll on their friendship.
Vittorio De Sica
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Vittorio De Sica
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This was only the second movie to be honored with a Special Oscar as the year's Best Foreign-Language Film, after Vittorio De Sica's SHOESHINE (1946). In retrospect, while a fine achievement in itself, it is not quite in the top rank of French productions (even those made around this same time) for the record, the country would receive two more such wins, both for director Rene' Clement, i.e. THE WALLS OF MALAPAGA (1949) and FORBIDDEN GAMES (1952), before the category was officially incorporated into the 1956 ceremony.
The film is a religious biopic, the subject being the priest revered for his unselfish aid towards the poor/moribund community in the 17th century and who would eventually be canonized as Saint Vincent De Paule; incidentally, the national old people's home (where my paternal grandfather expired in 2002) is named after him. The success of the movie rests more with Pierre Fresnay's commanding central performance (which earned him the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival), Jean-Jacques Grünenwald's rousing score and Claude Renoir's splendid cinematography (that said, the print I watched seemed unduly bright) than the narrative itself (though scripted by famed playwright Jean Anouilh) which tells a pretty standard tale of a man being initially misunderstood and scorned, then endorsed and abetted. Even so, a few scenes certainly do stand out: the priest getting relentlessly stoned as he lends a helping hand to a would-be plague victim; taking the place of an exhausted galley slave; listening to the 'miserable' sounds of fellow residents at his lodgings; the fights between the myriad mangled patients for a place on the hospital's over-crowded beds, etc.
The supporting cast here is notable for showcasing future stars such as Claude Chabrol regulars Michel Bouquet and Jean Carmet. By the way, given the subject matter, I was reminded throughout of two of my favourite film-maker Luis Bunuel's best efforts, namely NAZARIN (1959; which, like MONSIEUR VINCENT itself, is included in the Vatican's 45-title list of "Some Important Films"!) and VIRIDIANA (1961).
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