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Film / Shoeshine

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"We are the people who, in pursuit of our passions, abandon our children to fend for themselves. And our children are alone. All alone."
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Shoeshine is a 1946 film from Italy directed by Vittorio De Sica.

It depicts the grim existence of the poor underclass in Rome in 1944, immediately following liberation by the Americans in World War II. Pasquale and Giuseppe are two poor young urchins. Pasquale is homeless, sleeping in an elevator, and Giuseppe's family is minimally involved. The two boys scrape out a living shining the shoes of American servicemen. They dream of owning a horse, and have picked out a horse at a nearby stable to ride, but the dream seems unattainable.

Unattainable, that is, until Giuseppe's older brother Attilio enlists them in a scheme to sell stolen American blankets on the black market. What the boys don't know is that the real scheme is for Attilio and his partner to impersonate policemen and rob the woman who receives the blankets. Pasquale and Giuseppe take the money they receive for dropping off the blankets and buy their horse. Their joy is cut brutally short, however, when they're arrested for burglary. The boys are then absorbed into the maw of the Italian juridical system, with tragic consequences.

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Shoeshine is generally regarded as the beginning of the Italian Neorealism movement that became so important in the years after World War II. It earned a special honorary Oscar from AMPAS for achievement in a film not made in the English language, an award that is retroactively considered the first Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.


Tropes:

  • Crapsack World: The desperately poor Italian underclass in the immediate aftermath of defeat and humiliation in the war. And the grip despair of juvenile prison, which ruins the lives of two innocent boys.
  • Don't Split Us Up: But the boys are cruelly put into separate cells anyway.
  • Downer Ending: Pasquale kills Giuseppe and goes back to jail.
  • During the War, many Italian children were left hungry and desperate.
  • Fortune Teller: The old lady whom the boys unwittingly help rob. She gives them a grim tarot reading right before she's robbed, one which proves appropriate.
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  • Ill Girl: Ill Boy in the person of Raffaele, who is afflicted with an Incurable Cough of Death and is also the sweetest and most innocent of the prisoners. When the warden is interrogating everyone in Pasquale's cell about the file, he slaps all the other boys but can't bring himself to strike poor Raffaele.
  • Infant Immortality:
    • Poor little Raffaele is trampled to death during the stampede that is triggered by the prison break.
    • And Giuseppe is murdered by Pasquale in a fit of rage.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: "What have I done," says Pasquale after Giuseppe falls off the bridge and Pasquale realizes that he is dead.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: So how does Pasquale, who is on foot, manage to overtake and cut off Giuseppe and Arcangeli on a horse?
  • Prison: The awful juvenile prison where the boys are held, where they're held in absurdly overcrowded conditions and fed near-starvation rations. The indifference of the prison administration towards their charges is a major factor in the tragedies that ensue.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The one prison assistant who is moved by the plight of the young boys and wants to help them. At the end of the movie he decides to quit, realizing he is not cut out for prison work.
  • Roof Hopping: Giuseppe and Arcangeli and their cellmates do this when they escape from the prison.
  • Street Urchin: Pasquale and Giuseppe scraping out a hand-to-mouth existence selling shoes.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Pasquale is flogged after a metal file is planted in his cell.
  • We Used to Be Friends: The fall-out between Pasquale and Giuseppe is particularly bitter.
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