Italian neo-realismo. Very much a complement to, and reaction towards, the American ideological war as docu-drama that took flight in Germany after WWII and ran the gamut clunker to precursor to cinema verite. Italian realismo was not created in a vaccum though; it seems to explore the same terrain that Helen Levitt was uncovering in America on understanding the psychological meaning of fairytales and how what he conceive as play and its adult manifestations, has much to do with irrational, precultural activity that has been transmitted…
De Sica was a much greater director than actor. He had a certain finesse, and pliability in his face, and an immunity to histrionics, but he tended towards a default position of monotonous victimization and servility. But, as a director, there was usually a fair dose of surprise, ingenuity and daring.
In Umberto D. the old man, bereft of friends and family and a roof over his head, unable to find a home for his mongrel dog, is impelled to let it be killed rather than brutally starve to death; and for a breathless eternity, we watch all the cars of a long express train go by before we learn that the dog has not, after all, been crushed between the wheels.
Again, in the episode “Therese” in The Gold of Naples, he keeps his camera on Silvana Mangano sobbing against a lamppost for a nearly intolerable length of time until he sends her back to the house of her bridegroom, an unhinged masochist who has married her, a whore, to do penance, by making himself socially unacceptable, for an earlier cruelty to a girl he had driven to suicide.
De Sica’s versatility shows at its most striking in the four vignettes that comprise The Gold of Naples. In two of them he exchanges his somber palette for a gaudy one and comes up with farce as noisy and funny as you can imagine. Crockery crashes; eels writh in the fists of madly giggling children; priests collect money in baskets lowered from windows by dutiful parishioners who pause in their general screaming and singing to remember the needs of the Lord; a husband howls and flings himself into a mirror, giving himself an awful whack on the head, as he recalls, bellowing with remorse, that while his beloved wife was dying, he was eating a pizza.
The inspired comedian Toto does a lunatic dance of joy on a balcony when he at last manages to evict his guest of ten years, a gangster who has moved in with Toto and his hapless family after the death of his wife. This squatter for a decade had complained about the food and about the way the unwilling hostess had laundered his collars, and since the press of business in the underworld allowed him no leisure time, had delegated his host to go daily to the grave of the deceased with flowers and prayers for her immortal soul.
It can be said, that de Sico’s is an honest approach that follows Fellini’s dictum of not talking to a crowd or trying to make a message for everyone in the tradition of Hollywood and mass merchandised narratives. The crowd being a collection of individual realities; a breking down of the urban modern phenomenon of Baudelaire and his flaneur among the crowd into slices that de-romanticizes the use of fiction, returns to a form of classicism, albeit corrupted as well, but away from the roccoco and pop sensibility leading to perversion and towards something more profound, more fundamental; something that eliminates the impossible, the Chateau in the south of France, the driveway paved with gold; all the dross of ephemeral consumerism while admitting to the effect of accidents upon essences: how the catalyst of circumstances can transform for better and for worse.