Shoeshine ★★★★½

Terribly depressing glimpses of post-war Allied-occupied Italy belie within “Shoeshine”, a story of two shoeshine boys, Pasquele and Guiseppe, caught in the sordid underbelly of black markets and juvenile detention centres. In a country reeling from the ramifications of a fallen fascist regime, abject poverty is aggravated by displacement of relationships and principles. Kids loiter the streets instead of the playgrounds and classrooms, in search of the next shoes to polish and brush, in need of additional coins to pocket. Flats show dire conditions as several working-class families live in tiny and shoddy box-type rooms. But simple childhood dreams persist amidst hardships. Pasquele and Guiseppe’s want to own a horse gives “Shoeshine” its friable jovial and carefree tone at first. Yet it is this same want that further constricts the freedom already constricted by destitution. When authority figures come into the picture, friendship redefines itself out of circumstances and intentions. Loyalty is an afterthought; betrayal is given. Every opportunity can be manipulated. Moral dilemma pulls down the last flimsy curtain of childhood innocence, the illusion of idealism. It’s almost an allegory of a country struggling to rebuild itself and transition to democracy upon the rubbles of its war crimes, and there are inevitable casualties.

Out of all of the stampede of heartbreak charging every setting of “Shoeshine”, what may be most heavy is how the boys’ home provides almost no difference to their real homes. Five kids are in a cell; thin blankets make their beds; meals are edible but tasteless; medical services are poor; relatives have forsaken them. They are treated like animals, and so they become animals. And there seems to be no reformation, only punishment.

De Sica’s masterpiece may be “Bicycle Thieves”, but “Shoeshine” comes close, perhaps even reaching the same level, in the measurement of the pain scale. Although it can be said that “Shoeshine” ends rather expectedly—instead of abruptly, which gives “Bicycle Thieves” an emotional punch that upsets much beyond the screen—life in its era becomes alive with De Sica’s sharply humanist vision. In doing so, it casts back our own time. Modern life still trickles with similar social structures; society is still failing, forgetting its children. 

One of the finest neorealist films I’ve ever seen. Also, it’s so bizarre there seems to be no proper restoration of this film yet?

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