Vittorio De Sica was born on July 7, 1901 in Sora, Italy and died in France on November 13, 1974. He gained fame as both an actor and a director. As an actor his characters were suave, polished, and debonair. As a director in favor of Neorealism, his films were earthy, heartfelt, and honest. Through his work as an actor, he was able to finance his films. In post World War II Italy, the neorealists interpreted their stories as they wished, in this new Italian film industry now free of any impending control. De Sica (often with collaborator/writer, Cesare Zavattini) created a rich catalog of films.
Four of De Sica’s classic films will be shown at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco on September 26th 2015, and tickets for this one-off event can be purchased here.
Here’s what you’ll be treated to…
La Ciociara (Two Women, 1960)
The film, set in rural, central Italy follows Cesira (Sophia Loren) and her daughter Rosetta (Eleonora Brown) as they try to escape from the bombings in Rome during World War II, but find even more than their ideals burn out around them. Cesira has plenty of money to get them by, but as resources were scarce, preparedness was no virtue. Mostly shot outdoors, we see the shelterless people on hilltops hiding and tumbling from the warplanes above and from the tanks riding on the paths they must cross. Seeking safety in a church was no solace either, as both mother and daughter are traumatized by Moroccan soldiers. De Sica makes a film that looks like newsreel footage, and that plays with the same rawness of a news story.
L’Oro Di Napoli (The Gold of Naples, 1954)
De Sica’s early days were spent in Naples and so he capably uses it as a backdrop for these episodes. Quality versions of this film are hard to come by in the U.S., and in fact, when it was released in the U.S. in 1954, it was with only 4 of the 6 episodes included. (The complete uncut version is part of the series.) Of the episodes available on DVD: a father/husband must stand up to a bully. A persistent gambler (played by De Sica) plays a game of cards against a kid, while trying to retain his dignity. A prostitute is falsely charmed into an arranged marriage, and must decide whether it is worth it or not. A popular pizza maker (played by Sophia Loren) loses her husband’s ring in her pizza dough. Her husband begins a hunt for the ring with all the usual suspects, except one. Each episode is short and with a message – little morality plays, some serious and some lighthearted.
Matrimonio All’Italiana (Marriage Italian Style, 1964)
This would be my favorite in the series – Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni portraying a mostly one-sided romantic relationship and how that all ends. What is most striking about this film is the use of color, or Technicolor, which apparently was restored in 2014 and is a must-see. When Filumena Marturano (Sophia Loren) appears on the screen, her hair is a vibrant red and her dress is equally colorfully electric. Domenico Soriano (Marcello Mastroianni) enters with style and charm and easily justifies the spell he has on Filumena. As Filumena gets into Domenico’s flashy sports car, they are illuminated against the dreary backdrop around them. As their relationship has its ups and downs, so do the colors of the sets and their own presence – as if to represent the heat (reds and oranges) of a new relationship, and the coldness (greys) when it goes downhill. To see the color it ends on, I suggest you attend the film screening.
Il Giardino Dei Finzi Contini (The Garden of The Finzi-Continis, 1970)
This film takes place in Ferrara, Italy depicting the time from 1938 to 1943 and the laws that Mussolini enacted against Italian Jews. The first images of the film are of carefree young people riding bikes with the sun shinning brightly down upon them. They then enter the serene and safe gardens owned by the Finzi-Continis family. What ensues are scenes of the life of an middle-class Jewish family in contrast to that of an aristocratic one. Loves found and lost carry on a dramatic storyline despite the burden of the war around them. While one family acts as though all is well by not leaving their garden, in the end, they all face the same dilemmas. A visually lush and textured film, and yet, a dark imminence carries throughout.
If ever there were an argument for celebrating films of the past, it is with these by De Sica. While sometimes light and fun, colorful and exciting, they also remind us of times that shouldn’t be forgotten. The neorealists wanted to show the human condition and De Sica has produced images that will stick with you and not let you forget these times. More than realistic cinema, these are examples of how directors, writers, producers, actors… can drive home a message in a beautiful way.