Italian/French (became French citizen in order to marry second wife,
Sora (near Rome), 7 July 1902.
Institut Superieur de Commerce, Rome, and University of Rome.
Married 1) Giuditta Rissone (divorced 1968); 2) Maria Mercader, 1968, two
Actor in Tatiana Pavlova's Stage Company, 1923; formed own stage
company with actress-wife, late 1920s; leading film actor, from 1931;
directed first film,
In Paris, 13 November 1974.
Rose scarlatte (co-d, role as The Engineer)
Maddelena zero in condotta (+ dialogue, role as Carlo Hartman); Teresa Venerdi (+ co-sc, role)
Un garibaldino al convento (+ co-sc, role as Nino Bixio)
I bambini ci guardano (+ co-sc)
La porta del cielo (+ co-sc, completed 1944); Sciuscia ( Shoeshine ) (+ co-sc)
Ladri di biciclette ( The Bicycle Thief ) (+ pr, co-sc)
Miracolo a Milano ( Miracle in Milan ) (+ co-sc)
Umberto D (+ pr, co-sc)
Stazione Termini ( Indiscretion of an American Wife ; Indiscretion ) (+ co-pr)
L'oro di Napoli ( Gold of Naples ) (+ co-sc, role)
Il tetto ( The Roof ) (+ pr)
La ciociara ( Two Women )
Il giudizio universale (+ role)
"La Riffa (The Raffle)" episode of Boccacio '70 ; I sequestrati di Altona ( The Condemned of Altona )
Il boom ; Ieri, oggi, domani ( Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow )
Matrimonio all'italiana ( Marriage, Italian Style )
Un Monde nouveau ( Un Monde jeune ; Un mondo nuovo ; A Young World )
Caccia alla volpe ( After the Fox ) (+ guest role); "Un sera come le altre (A Night like Any Other)" episode of Le streghe ( The Witches )
Woman Times Seven ( Sept fois femmes )
Amanti ( A Place for Lovers ) (+ co-sc)
I girasoli ( Sunflower ); Il giardino dei Finzi Contini ( The Garden of the Finzi-Continis ); "Il leone" episode of Le coppie (Les Couples)
Lo chiameremo Andrea
Una breve vacanza ( A Brief Vacation )
Il viaggio ( The Journey ; The Voyage )
Il processo Clémenceau ( L'Affaire Clemenceau ) (Bencivenga) (role)
La bellezza del mondo (Almirante) (role)
La compagnia dei matti ( La compagnie des fous ) (Almirante) (role)
La vecchia signora (Palermi) (role); La segretaria per tutti (Palermi) (role); Due cuori felici (Negroni) (role); Gli uomini che mascalzoni! (Camerini) (role)
Un cattivo soggetto (Bragaglia) (role); Il signore desidera? (Righelli) (role); La canzone del sole (German version: Das Lied der Sonne ) (Neufeld) (role as The Secretary); Lisetta (Boese) (role)
Tempo massimo (Mattoli) (role)
Darò un millione (Camerini) (role as The Millionaire); Amo te sola (Mattòli) (role)
Lohengrin (Malasomma) (role); Ma non è una cosa seria! (Camerini) (role); Non ti conosco più (Malasomma) (role); L'uomo che sorride (Mattoli) (role)
Hanno rapito un uomo (Righelli) (role); Il signor Max (Camerini) (role); Questi ragazzi (Mattoli) (role)
Napoli d'altri tempi (Palermi) (role); L'orologio a cucù (Mastrocinque) (role); Partire (Palermi) (role); Ai vostri ordini, signora! (Mattòli) (role); La mazurka di papà (Biancoli) (role); Le due madri (Palermi) (role); Castelli in aria (German version: Ins blaue Leben , 1939) (Genina) (role)
Grandi magazzini (Camerini) (role); Finisce sempre cosí (Susini) (role); Napoli che non muore (Palermi) (role)
La peccatrice (Palermi) (role); Pazza di giola (Bragaglia) (role); Manon Lescaut (Gallone) (role)
L'avventuriera del piano di sopra (Matarazzo) (role)
Se io fossi onesto! (Bragaglia) (role, co-sc); La guardia del corpo (Bragaglia) (role, co-sc)
I nostri sogni (Cottafavi) (role, co-sc); Non sono superstizioso, ma. . . ! (Bragaglia) (role, co-sc); L'ippocampo (Rosmino) (role, co-sc); Diece minuti di vita (Longanesi) (unfinished; another version made 1944 with different cast) (role); Nessuno torna indietro (Blasetti) (role)
Lo sbaglio di essere vivo (Bragagalia) (role); Il mondo vuole cosi (Bianchi) (role)
Roma città libera (co-sc); Il marito povero (Amara) (co-sc); Abbasso la ricchezza! (Righelli) (role, co-sc)
Sperduti nel buio (Mastrocinque) (role as Nanzio, co-sc); Natale al campo 119 (Francisci) (supervisor, role as The Noble Neopolitan)
Lo sconosciuto di San Marino (Waszinsky) (role as The Proprietor); Cuore (Coletti) (co-sc, role as The Landlord)
Domani è troppo tardi (Moguy) (role as Professor Landi)
Cameriera bella presenza offresi (Pastina) (role as The Actor); "Il processo di Frine" episode of Altri tempi (Blasetti) (role as the Barrister); Gli uomini non guardano il cielo (Scarpelli) (role)
Buongiorno elefante! ( Sabú principle ladro ) (Franciolini) (co-sc, role as Garetti); "Scena all'aperto" (role as Count) and "Don Corradino" (role as Don Corradino) episodes of Tempi nostri (Blasetti)
Madame De . . . (Ophuls) (role as Fabrizio Donati); Pane, amore e fantasia (Comencini) (role as Marshal Carotenuto); "Pendolin" episode of Cento anni d'amore (De Felice) (role); "Incidente a Villa Borghese" episode of Villa Borghese (Franciolini) (role); Il matrimonio (Petrucci) (role); "Il fine dicitore" episode of Gran varietà (Paolella) (role); "Le Divorce (Il divorzio)" episode of Secrets d'alcôve ( Il letto ) (Franciolini) (role)
Vergine moderna (Pagliero) (role as The Banker); L'Allegro Squadrone (Moffa) (role as The General); Pane, amore e gelosia (Comencini) (role); Peccato che sia una canaglia (Blasetti) (role as Mr. Stroppiani)
Il segno di Venere (Risi) (role as Alessio Spano, the Poet); Gli ultimi cinque minuti ( The Last Five Minutes ) (Amato) (role as Carlo); La bella mugnaia (Camerini) (role as The Governor); Pane, amore e . . . (Risi) (role as Carotenuto); Racconti romani (Franciolini) (role); Il bigamo (Emmer) (role as The Barrister)
Mio figlio Nerone ( Nero's Weekend ) (Steno) (role as Sénèquel); Tempo di villegiatura (Racioppi) (role as The Celebrity); The Monte Carlo Story ( Montecarlo ) (Taylor) (role as Count Dino Giocondo Della Fiaba); I giorni più belli ( I nostri anni più belli, Gli anni più belli ) (Mattòli) (role as The Banker); Noi siamo le colonne (D'Amico) (role as Celimontani)
Padri e figli (Monicelli) (role as the tailor Corallo); I colpevoli (Vasile) (role as the barrister Vasari); Souvenir d'Italie ( It Happened in Rome ) (Pietrangeli) (role as The Count); La donna che venne del mare (De Robertis) (role as Bordigin); Vacanze a Ischia (Camerini) (role as Occhipinti); I conte Max (Bianchi) (role as Count Max Orsini Baraldo); Amore e chiacchiere (Blasetti) (role as Bonelli); Il medico e lo stregone (Monicelli) (role as Locoratolo); Totò, Vittorio e la dottoressa (Mastrocinque) (role as the sick nobleman); Casino de Paris (Hunebelle) (role as Alexandre Gordy)
A Farewell to Arms (Vidor) (role as Count Alessandro Rinaldi); Domenica è sempre domenica (Mastrocinque) (role as Mr. Guastaldi); Ballerina e buon Dio (Leonviola) (roles as the policeman, the taxi driver, and the costume porter); Kanonenserenade ( Pezzo, capopezzo e capitano ) (Staudte) (role as Count Ernesto De Rossi); Anna di Brooklyn (Denham and Lastricati) (supervisor, co-music, role as Don Luigino); La ragazza di Piazza S. Pietro (Costa) (role as Armando Conforti); Gli zitelloni (Bianchi) (role as Professor Landi); Pane, amore e Andulasia (Setò) (role as Carotenuto); La prima notte (Cavalcanti) (role as Alfredo)
Nel blu dipinto di blu (Volare) (Tellini) (role as Spartaco); Il nemico di mia moglie (Puccini) (role as The Husband); Vacanze d'inverno (Mastrocinque) (role as Manrizie); Il moralista (Bianchi) (role as The President); Il Generale Della Rovere (Rossellini) (role as Giovanni Bertone); Il mondo dei miracoli (Capuano) (role as Pietro Giordani); Uomini e nobiluomini (Bianchi) (role as Marquis Nicolas Peccoli); Ferdinando I, re di Napoli (Franciolini) (role as Ceccano); Gastone (Bonnard) (role as The Prince); Les trois etc . . . du colonel ( Le tre eccetera del colonello ) (Boissol) (role as Colonel Belalcazar)
Il vigile (Zampa) (role as The Trustee); Le pillole di Ercole (Salce) (role as Colonel Pietro Cuocolo); Austerlitz (Gance) (role as Pope Pius VII); The Angel Wore Red ( La sposa bella ) (Johnson) (role as General Clave); The Millionairess (Asquith) (role as Joe); It Started in Naples (Shavelson) (role as Mario Vitale); Gli incensurati (Giaculli) (role as comic actor); Un amore a Roma (Risi) (role)
Gli attendenti (Bianchi) (role as Colonel Bitossi); I due marescialli (Corbucci) (role as Antonio Cotone); Le meraviglie di Aladino ( The Wonders of Aladdin ) (Bava and Levin) (role as The Genie); L'onorata società (Pazzaglia) (role as The Chef); La Fayette ( La Fayette, una spada per due bandiere ) (Dréville) (role as Bancroft)
Vive Henry IV, vive l'amour (Autant-Lara) (role as Don Pedro)
The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (T. Young) (role as The Count)
Io, io, io . . . e gli altri (Blasetti) (role as Count Trepossi)
Gli altri, gli altri e noi (Arena) (role as man on pension); Un italiano in America (Sordi) (role as Giuseppe's Father); The Biggest Bundle of Them All (Annakin) (role as Cesare Celli); Caroline Cherie (de la Patelliere) (role as Count de Bièvres)
The Shoes of the Fisherman ( Les Souliers de Saint-Pierre ) (M. Anderson) (role as Cardinal Rinaldi)
If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (M. Stuart) (role as The Shoemaker); Una su tredici ( 12 + 1 ) (Gessner and Lucignani) (role as Di Seta)
Cose di Cosa Nostra (Steno) (role as The Lawyer); L'Odeur des fauves (Balducci) (role as Milord)
Trastevere (Tozzi) (role as Enrico Formichi); Io non vedo, tu non parli, lui non sente (Camerini) (role as Count at the Casino)
Pinocchio (Comencini) (for TV) (role as The Judge); Snow Job ( The Ski Raiders ) (Englund) (role as Dolphi); Ettore lo fusto (Castellari) (role as Giove); Siamo tutti in libertà provvisoria (Scarpelli) (role)
Storia de fratelli e de cortelli (Amendola) (role as The Marshal); Il delitto Matteotti (Vancini) (role as Mauro del Giudice)
Andy Warhol's Dracula ( Dracula cerca sangue di vergine e . . . morì di sete!!, Blood for Dracula ) (Morrissey) (role as Marquis di Fiori); C'eravamo tanto amati (Scola) (role as himself); Vittorio De Sica, il Regista, l'attore, l'uomo (Gragadze) (role)
Umberto D. , with Cesare Zavattini, Rome, 1954.
The Bicycle Thief , with Cesare Zavattini, New York, 1968.
Miracle in Milan , with Cesare Zavattini and others, New York, 1968.
Interview with F. Koval, in Sight and Sound (London), April 1950.
"The Most Wonderful Years of My Life," in Films and Filming (London), December 1955.
"Money, the Public, and Umberto D," in Films and Filming (London), January 1956.
"Illiberal Censorship," in Film (London), January/February 1956.
"Hollywood Shocked Me," in Films and Filming (London), February 1956.
"I Must Act to Pay My Debts," in Films and Filming (London), March 1956.
"British Humor? It's the Same in Italy," in Films and Filming (London), April 1959.
"What's Right with Hollywood," in Films and Filming (London), November 1963.
Interview in Encountering Directors , edited by Charles Thomas Samuels, New York, 1972.
Interview with D. Lyons, in Interview (New York), February 1972.
" Le Jardin des Finzi-Contini ," interview with G. Braucourt, in Ecran (Paris), February 1972.
Ferrara, Giuseppe, Il nuovo cinema italiano , Florence, 1957.
Agel, Henri, Vittorio De Sica , second edition, Paris, 1964.
Leprohon, Pierre, Vittorio De Sica , Paris, 1966.
Bazin, André, Qu'est-ce que le cinéma , second edition, Paris, 1975.
Caldiron, Orio, Vittorio De Sica , Rome, 1975.
Mercader, Maria, La mia vita con Vittorio De Sica , Milan, Italy, 1978.
Anthologie du cinéma , vol. 10, Paris, 1979.
Darreta, John, Vittorio De Sica: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1983.
Bolzoni, Francesco, Quando De Sica era Mister Brown , Turin, 1984.
Governi, Giancarlo, with Anna Maria Bianchi, Vittorio De Sica: Parlami d'amore Mariù , Rome, 1993.
Jacobson, H.L., "De Sica's Bicycle Thieves and Italian Humanism," in Hollywood Quarterly , Fall 1949.
Hawkins, R.F., "De Sica Dissected," in Films in Review (New York), May 1951.
Lambert, Gavin, "The Case of De Sica," in Sight and Sound (London), June 1951.
Sargeant, W., "Bread, Love, and Neo-Realism," in New Yorker , 29 June and 6 July 1957.
Rhode, Eric, "Why Neo-Realism Failed," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1960/61.
Lane, J.F., "A Case of Artistic Inflation," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1963.
McVay, D., "Poet of Poverty," in Films and Filming (London), November 1964.
Comuzio, E., "De Sica o della doppia costante: il sorriso e il tarlo segreto," in Cineforum (Bergamo), January 1975.
Bachmann, Gideon, "Vittorio de Sica: Always a True Window," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1975.
"De Sica Issue" of Bianco e Nero (Rome), Fall 1975.
Passalacqua, J., "Vittorio De Sica," in Films in Review (New York), April 1978.
"Vittorio de Sica Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 October 1978.
Carcassonne, P., "Dossier: le neo-realisme: De Sica 'le menteur,"' in Cinématographe (Paris), January 1979.
Shipman, David, "Directors of the Decade: Forties," in Films and Filming (London), June 1983.
"Vittorio De Sica," in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), February 1985.
De Reisner, Bika, Meet De Sica.
Dragadze, Peter, Vittorio De Sica: Il regista, l'attore, l'uomo (for TV), 1974.
* * *
The films of Vittorio De Sica are among the most enduring of the Italian post-war period. His career suggests an openness to form and a versatility uncommon among Italian directors. De Sica began acting on stage as a teenager and played his first film role in 1918. In the 1920s his handsome features and talent made him something of a matinee idol, and from the mid-1930s he appeared in a number of films by Mario Camerini, including Gliuomini che mascalzoni!, Darò un milione , and Grandi magazzine.
During his lifetime, De Sica acted in over one hundred films in Italy and abroad, using this means to finance his own directorial efforts. He specialized in breezy comic heroes, men of great self-assurance or confidence men (as in Rossellini's Generale della Rovere ). The influence of his tenure as actor cannot be overestimated in his directorial work, where the expressivity of the actor in carefully written roles was one of his foremost technical implements. In this vein De Sica has continually mentioned the influence on his work of Charlie Chaplin. The tensive continuity between tragic and comic, the deployment of a detailed yet poetic gestural language, and a humanist philosophy without recourse to the politically radical are all elements of De Sica's work that are paralleled in the silent star's films.
De Sica's directorial debuts, Rose scarlatte and Maddalena, zero in condotta , were both attempts to bring theater pieces to the screen with suitable roles for himself. In 1943, with I bambini ci guardano , De Sica teamed with Cesare Zavattini, who was to become his major collaborator for the next three decades. Together they began to demonstrate elements of the post-war realist aesthetic which, more than any other director except Visconti and Rossellini, De Sica helped shape and determine. Despite the overt melodrama of the misogynistic story (a young mother destroys her family by deserting them), the filmmaker refused to narrow the perspective through an overwrought Hollywoodian mise-en-scène, preferring instead a refreshing simplicity of composition and a subdued editing style. Much of the film's original flavor can be traced to the clear, subjective mediation of a child, as promised in the title.
De Sica's intense feeling for children's sensibilities led him to imagine how children viewed the failing adult reconstruction of society after the war. Sciuscia , a realistic look at the street and prison life of poor, abandoned children, was the result. It is the story of how the lasting friendship of two homeless boys, who make their living shining shoes for the American G.I.'s, is betrayed by their contact with adults. At the end of the film one boy inadvertently causes the other's death. Although Zavattini insists that his creative role was minimal in this instance, the presence of his poetic imagination is evident in the figure of a beautiful white horse. This horse serves to cement the boys' mutual bond and their hope for a future. Though a miserable failure in Italy, Sciuscia marked De Sica's entry into international prominence; the film won a special Oscar in 1947.
For the balance of the neorealist period De Sica fought an uphill battle to finance his films through friends and acting salaries. Ladri di biciclette anchors searching social documentation in metaphor and a non-traditional but highly structured narrative. Workman Ricci's desperate search for his bicycle is an odyssey that enables us to witness a varied collection of characters and situations among the poor and working class of Rome. Each episode propels the narrative toward a sublimely Chaplinesque but insufficiently socially critical ending in which Ricci is defeated in his search and therefore in his attempts to provide for his family. Reduced to thievery himself, he takes his son's hand and disappears into the crowd. Like De Sica's other neorealist films, Ladri di biciclette gives the impression of technical nonchalance only to the indiscriminate eye, for De Sica planned his work with attention to minute details of characterization, mise-en-scène, and camera technique. During this period he preferred the non-professional actor for his or her ability to accept direction without the mediation of learned acting technique.
The story of Toto the Good in Miracolo a Milano remains one of the outstanding stylistic contradictions of the neorealist period (there are many), yet one which sheds an enormous amount of light on the intentions and future of the De Sica-Zavattini team. The cinematography and setting, markedly neorealist in this fable about the struggle to found a shanty town for the homeless, is undercut at every moment with unabashed clowning both in performance and in cinematic technique. Moreover, the film moves toward a problematic fairy tale ending in which the poor, no longer able to defend their happy, makeshift village from the voracious appetite of capitalist entrepreneurs, take to the skies on magic broomsticks. (The film has more special effects than anyone would ever associate with neorealism; could De Sica have left his mark on Steven Spielberg?) Still, Zavattini, who had wanted to make the film for a number of years, and De Sica defend it as the natural burlesque transformation of themes evident in their earlier work together.
By this time De Sica's films were the subject of a good deal of controversy in Italy, and generally the lines were drawn between Catholic and Communist critics. The latter had an especially acute fear (one which surfaced again with Fellini's La Strada ) that the hard-won traits of neorealism had begun to backslide into those of the socalled "calligraphic" films of the Fascist era. These were based on an ahistorical, formal concern for aesthetic, compositional qualities and the nuances of clever storytelling. However, it was their next film, Umberto D , that comes closest to realizing Zavattini's ideas on the absolute responsibility of the camera eye to observe life as it is lived without the traditional compromises of entertaining narratives. The sequence of the film in which the maid wakes up and makes the morning coffee has been praised many times for its day-in-the-life directness and simplicity. Il Tetto , about a curious attempt to erect a small house on municipal property, is generally recognized as the last neorealist film of this original period.
Continually wooed by Hollywood, De Sica finally acquiesced to make Stazione termini in 1953, produced by Selznick and filmed in Rome with Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift. Unfortunately, neorealist representation formed only an insignificant background to this typically American star vehicle. A similar style is employed in La ciociara , which was created from a Moravia story about the relationship of a mother and daughter uprooted by the war. De Sica attempted to reconstruct reality in the studio during the making of this work, making use of a somewhat unsuccessful stylized lighting technique. But as usual, he obtains excellent performances in an engaging dramatic vehicle (Sophia Loren won an Oscar).
The filmmakers returned to comedic vehicles in 1954 in L'oro di Napoli. Human comedy emerges from the rich diversity and liveliness of Neapolitan life. Though still within the confines of realism, the film foreshadows the director's entrance into the popular Italian market for sexual satire and farce. The exactitude with which he sculpts his characters and his reluctance to reduce the scenario to a mere bunch of gags demonstrates his intention to fuse comedy and drama, putting De Sica at the top of his class in this respect—among Risi, Comencini, and Monicelli. Often with Zavattini but also with Eduardo De Filippo, Tonino Guerra, and even Neil Simon ( After the Fox ), De Sica turned out about eight such films for the lucrative international market between 1961 and 1968, the best of which are: Il giudizio universale , which featured an all-star cast of international comedians; Ieri, oggi, domani and Matrimonio all'Italiana , both with Loren and Mastroianni; and Sette volte donna. Il giardino dei Finzi Contini , based on a Bassani novel about the incarceration of Italian Jews during the war, shows a strong Viscontian influence in its lavish setting and thematics (the film deals with the dissolution of the bourgeois family). Una breve vacanza , an examination of a woman who has managed to break out of the confines of an oppressive marriage during a sanitorium stay, reinstitutes the tensive relationship between comedy and tragedy of the earlier films. De Sica's last film, Il viaggio , is from a Pirandello novel.