Shoeshine Starring: Franco Interlenghi, Rinaldo Smordoni, Bruno Ortenzi Director: Vittoria De Sica The film: In March 1948, Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine became the first foreign-language film to win an Academy Award. There was no such category at the time, and so an honorary award was created, announcing that 'the high quality of this Italian-made motion picture, brought to eloquent life in a country scarred by war, is proof to the world that the creative spirit can triumph over adversity'. De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948) received a similar Oscar two years later, by which time Italian neorealist cinema was a well-established (and some would say already fading) filmmaking movement, with De Sica its most commercially successful figure. These films had several things in common. They were shot for the most part on the street and in real locations with non-professional actors, had low budgets, and were made using outdated equipment. They brought a new kind of reality to the screen, and between them formed one of the most influential film genres of all time. Shoeshine follows the misfortunes of two young boys as they supplement their incomes from cleaning the boots of American soldiers with some black market dealing to earn enough money to buy a horse. They're soon caught by the police and sent to a reformatory, where their friendship collapses in a series of episodes that reflect the cruelty and corruption of a financially and morally bankrupt post-war society. It's tearjerking stuff, although not on the same level as Bicycle Thieves, and De Sica's use of attractive children, dramatic music, some back projection and dubbed sound take away some of the realism. Anyone wanting an introduction to the director might do better to wait for Criterion's release of Bicycle Thieves in February, but for those already familiar with his work, or just looking for a meaningful change from the usual Hollywood guff, this is a worthwhile film, packaged here with enough extras to explain its meaning, context and significance. The extras: 'Note the American GIs, the Jeeps, note the crowds,' urges commentator Bert Cardullo on a speedy talk track, whose lecturing tone might have viewers imagining him in front of the screen with a laser pointer in one hand and a grande latte in the other. He paces himself more slowly as the film unfolds, though, and with no gaps and plenty of pertinent information, his is one of the better commentary tracks offered on the Eureka Masters of Cinema label. Three documentaries - all in Italian with subtitles - are also included. The first is a 25-minute piece looking at the making of the film, the second (20 minutes) features interviews with the two lead child actors - now both elderly gentlemen with fond memories of the film, but only one with an acting career behind him. Last up is an eight-minute introduction to neorealist cinema. Also included is an illustrated 24-page booklet with essays by De Sica, Pauline Kael, James Agee and Cardullo. The film transfer shows some of the damage suffered by the source material over the years but for the most part is surprisingly clear, as is the mono soundtrack.