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.
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At a track near Rome, shoeshine boys are watching horses run. Two of the boys, the orphan Pasquale and his younger friend Giuseppe, are riding. The pair have been saving to buy a horse of their own to ride. The boys meet Attilio, Giuse's much older brother, and his shady friend at a boat on the Tiber. In return for a commission, the boys agree to deliver black market goods to a fortune-teller. Once the woman has paid, Attilio's gang suddenly arrives, pretending to be cops, to shake the woman down. With a payoff from Attilio, the boys are able to make the final payment and stable their horse in Trastevere over the river. The fortune-teller identifies Pasqua and Giuse. Held at an overcrowded boys' prison, they are separated. Giuse falls under the influence of an older lad in his cell, Arcangeli. During interrogation, Pasqua is tricked into betraying Giuse's brother to the police. With their trial still in the future, the two friends are driven further apart.Written by
DeSica's first true mark on the world of neo-realism is a small ruby of its time and place
Sciuscia, or Shoeshine, tells a tragedy involving two boys, Pasquale and Giuseppe, both of whom try and make money from shining shoes, and also in dealing with black market goods. They hope to buy a horse one day (a wonderful opening shot of a horse running fast gets this point across since this is at its core a film of adolescence), but complications involving Giuseppe's older brother and gang land the two boys in jail just as they have enough for the horse. The film then deals with the boys in the reformatory/prison, over-crowded with conniving, shady influences as cell-mates, as well as the people who run the prison. To tell anymore of the plot would ruin it for the viewer who would go out of his way to find this - it's near impossible to find, which is a shame since The Bicycle Thief and Umberto D. are readily available in most stores and rentals - and it's enough to say that much of the film relies more on character than story. Because the director's dealing with a group of near total unknowns, they come first.
This film, by Vittorio De Sica, was made very soon after the War had decimated the country he lived in. He didn't just want to make this movie, he had to- these characters are as real as their backdrop, a country still in the aftermath of a fascist state of affairs, and since the film deals with children there's all the more emotion to it. The only, very minor liability in the film is that the drama in the material isn't as simple and everyday as DeSica's later, more famous efforts; if it was under different direction it could've become a forgettable tearjerker. But the tragedies of these characters, Pasquale and Giuseppe, is splendid in the humanity that they feel, as it unfolds, and by the end it rings as true as any other given neo-realist effort of the late 40's and early 50's. Shoeshine is one of those rarities that may give a tear-jerker to someone who isn't expecting one, and I mean that as a compliment. Note, if you find this tape, it may be rather grainy and slightly shifty in frame, and the subtitles aren't complete- not to downplay the worth of the film in and of itself, however.
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