Sciuscià (Vittorio De Sica / Italy, 1946):

After the jaunty preamble, a foreboding note amid the fortuneteller's cards: "Don't kids have a future?" Rome in the wake of war is patrolled by American GIs who like their boots polished, shoeshine boys are its scrounging heart, the splintering of a nation is told as a young friendship calamitously fractured. White horse and black market, the teenage orphan (Franco Interlenghi) and the wee sharpie (Rinaldo Smordoni) yearn for the dream equine and fall into the contraband racket. A misstep (the selling of stolen blankets, the fleecing of a clairvoyant) is all it takes, into the crowded juvenile penitentiary the two go, "che peccato!" The East Side Kids are the surprising precedents, Muggs the jockey (That Gang of Mine) and Muggs the reformatory mook (Mr. Wise Guy), out of this comes Vittorio De Sica's neorealist Oliver Twist. The prison is a grid of lice and gruel run by overworked bureaucrats, rising and plunging crane shots survey three floors of cells and take note of the vast religious mural on the wall. (A disused convent sets the stage, Jesuits are cheered by the laddish inmates as they bring in a magic lantern show.) Scrappy troupers in the face of punishment, the children knock around in separate cliques, stick to a hopeless code of silence, and watch as their camaraderie crumbles. Movie night occasions the escape, newsreels followed by silent slapstick followed by a burning projector (cf. Keighley's Each Dawn I Die). "If you think they’re guilty, then this court must condemn all of us, too," thunders the attorney, finger at the camera; later, the supervisor weeps by the side of the trampled tubercular cherub: "In here you need stronger people than me..." I bambini perduti, a vision remade over and over by Ken Loach and the Dardenne Brothers. The thoroughbred materializes once again at the close as a poetic emblem; Rossellini's first order of business in Germania Anno Zero is to slaughter it for meat. With Annielo Mele, Bruno Ortenzi, Emilio Cigoli, Mario Volpicelli, Irene Smordoni, and Peppino Spadaro. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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