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
The location: Nazi occupied Rome. As Rome is classified an open city, most Romans can wander the streets without fear of the city being bombed or them being killed in the process. But life for Romans is still difficult with the Nazi occupation as there is a curfew, basic foods are rationed, and the Nazis are still searching for those working for the resistance and will go to any length to quash those in the resistance and anyone providing them with assistance. War worn widowed mother Pina is about to get married to her next door neighbor Francesco. Despite their situation - Pina being pregnant, and Francesco being an atheist - Pina and Francesco will be wed by Catholic priest Don Pietro Pelligrini. The day before the wedding, Francesco's friend, Giorgio Manfredi, who Pina has never met, comes looking for Francesco as he, working for the resistance, needs a place to hide out. For his latest mission, Giorgio also requests the assistance of Don Pietro, who is more than willing as he sees...Written by
Like so many movies made during or shortly after WWII, this one reveals more about the circumstances of its creation than anything novel in the story line. Stock good guys and bad guys fill the screen, and the sombre tone of it all trumps any truly objective attempt to critique it according to some dispassionate set of standards. The fact that it was made at all and continues to be shown to appreciative audiences via cable television speaks for itself.
The strength of the production lies indeed in powerful individual scenes and some inspired acting. It captures attention from the beginning and holds the viewer rapt until the final minutes, even though the cinematic values are at best crude, requiring a forgiving eye. One identifies easily with its emotional force.
That said, its shortcomings are rather obvious. The Nazis are mainly not native speakers of German, with accents ranging from Dutch to Italian, and the one German officer who speaks ill of the "master race" is in his cups rather than a sober judge of the evil around him. The viewer would do well to remember that fascism in Italy was a homegrown phenomenon well before the Germans took over the show in 1944. Note how the Red Menace is thrown in the face of patriotic Italians as a ploy to gain their acquiescence to Nazi control. Elements of moral decadence among the evildoers likewise diminishes rather than enhances the proposition that they are rational perpetrators of that evil, bent on excusing their acts by twisting the truth to suit their own agenda.
Yet this was a contemporaneous Italian reflection on fresh history, and that cannot be faulted by 21st Century revisionists. It also restored a vital industry to Italy, and presaged many great films that followed it.
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