Vittorio De Sica Edit Profile
In the 1930s, he played in Gli Uomini che Mascalzoni (32, Mario Camerini); Daw un Milione (35, Camerini); Ma Non e Una Cosa Serza! (36, Camerini); II Signor Max (37, Luigi Comencini); Cast ell i in Aria (39, Augusto Genina); and I Grandi Magazzini (39, Camerini).
He also acted in the earliest films that he directed, and The Children Are Watching Us is his first serious resort to realism. It was scripted by Cesare Zavattini, w hom de Sica had known since 1932.
Perhaps Bicycle Thieves would work best in thirty minutes, one episode among several—a form de Sica used in L'Oro di Napoli. As it is, it functions like a plan; it is emotional only to the extent that the plan is relevant to a real human plight. Like many would-be documentarists, de Sica is actually uneasy about feeling. When it arises, he shuts it off brusquely, as if he mistrusted an oversentimental reaction from his innate coldness. He was not callous, but that his films skirt round feelings and prefer not to investigate character. Thus, it is the idea of the man in Bicycle Thieves that moves us, and always the cinematic realization in a Renoir film that affects our response. Neo-realism was a naive regime, far less rewarding than the cinema verité movement that came some twelve years later. Because de Sica and Zavattini were most attached to it, they have been the most misunderstood.
Far better to accept the shortcomings of the cursory gestures to working-class solidarity and see that Miracolo a Milano has that curiously Italian fusion of fantasy and the everyday that Fellini has thrived on, that Umberto D takes objectivity toward abstraction in a way that can be usefully related to the work of Renoir. In other words, de Sica is a less emotional but more reflective director than is sometimes alleged.
It was the overreliance on the heart on his sleeve that led to charges ol betrayal when the impetus went out of neo-realism. Stazione Termini was not a sellout to David Selznick, but an underachieved emotional melodrama; a subject close to Italian tradition, given the advantages of Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift, but let down by de Sica’s reticence (with such material, Oplmls could have made a masterpiece). II Tetto was an ostensibly working-class subject undermined bv compromise. At this stage, de Sica resumed the acting career that he had never entirely abandoned: I Nostri Sogni (43, Vittorio Cottafavi); Nessuno Torna Indietro (44, Alessan-dro Blasetti); Roma, Citta Libera (46, Marcello Pagliero); Lo Sconosciuto di San Marino (48, Cottafavi and M. Waszinsky); Altri Tempi (52, Blasetti); the faithless lover in Madame de . . . (53, Max Ophuls); and an increasing emphasis on a twinkling-eyed father figure—Pane, Amore e Gelosia (54, Gomencini); II Segno di Venere (55, Dino Risi); Pane, Amore e . . . (55, Risi); Padri e Figli (57, Mario Monicelli); It Happened in Rome (57, Antonio Pietrangeli); Amore e Chiaccliiere (57, Blasetti); Rinaldi in A Farewell to Arms (57, Charles Vidor); Kanonenserenade (58, Wolfgang Staudte): La Prima Notte (58, Alberto Cavalcanti); and Les Noces Vénitiennes (58, Cavalcanti).
His playing of the swindler trapped into heroism in II Generale della Rovere was an affectionate glimpse of the two halves of de Sica's nature. Far from the betrayer of an early vision, he was a once interesting director in decline. The emotion that had once been denied by a sort of shyness was swamped by cliché and overemphasis: Two Women supposedly rehabilitated him commercially, just as it brought Sophia Loren an Oscar. But his work in the 1960s was slick and tasteless. The pictorial grace and the emotional severity were both abandoned in a series of concocted comedies about sexual hypocrisy. The Garden of the Finzi- Contini was a regeneration only in that it was a serious, literary' subject that de Sica transcribed with rather hollow rectitude. He stands now as a minor director. But the films from 1943-52, and L'Oro di Napoli, are still worth seeing.
There is no doubt about the social and political involvement de Sica felt with war-torn Italy. He spoke of his films being a struggle “against the absence of human solidarity, against the indifference of society towards suffering. They are a word in favor of the poor and the unhappy.” It could be argued that that strength of feeling requires more than a word. Time soon caught up with neorealism and left it looking like an idealistic stance, not fully participated in by its practitioners. This is not to say that The Children Are Watching Us, Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves (The Bicycle Thief in America), and Umberto D are not moving films, or that they are inaccurate or misleading portraits of Italy in the years after Mussolini.
The difficulty is that they are schematically contrived: Bicycle Thieves, for instance, is either too long a telling of a fragment from urban problems, or too sketchy an examination of the pressurized mind of a man on the brink of unemployment. Not all the real locations and “real" people disguise the way that the story has been set up—that the man has a son to create the necessary sentimental commentary on his dilemma, that once his bicycle is stolen, other cycles crowd the screen and the trilling of bells runs through the music. In the same way, the enlargement of the subject, to show how the victim himself becomes a thief, and the implication that all the city is caught in the same spiral, is trite compared with, say, the dynamic analysis Losey makes in M and The Criminal. The more one sees Bicycle Thieves, the duller the man becomes and the more poetic and accomplished de Sica’s urban photography seems. The disappearing perspective of a sunny, dusty Rome, briefly puddled by a thunderstorm, but with streets and squares receding into hopelessly empty expanses, is not only very beautiful but a clear heralding of the elegant alienation in Antonionis work.
It is not always remembered that de Sica—pioneer sponsor of the nonprofessional actor—was originally a young romantic lead actor on the stage and in the movies. Thus, the slightly fake gallantry, the silver hair that might be tin, which Hollywood made use of and which Rossellini observed so tactfully in II Generate della Rovere (59), were the remains of an earlv emphasis on charm and brightness.
Married second, Maria Mercader Forcada.