“An urge to tell the truth stirred in us. Unaware, we were creating neo-realism.” So beams the garrulous, charismatic, ever-so-slightly-pompous Vittorio De Sica, director of three of the five films in this box set. Dressed in a dapper two-piece suit, inhaling thoughtfully on a slim cigarette, he’s the subject of the hour-long Timeless Cinema documentary. Factor in the equally excellent Children Of Rome doc and you have the scoop on Italian neo-realism, the post-World War Two movement that rejected papier-mâché sets, middle-class thesps and neat plots in favour of locations, non-actors and urgent messages.
Bicycle Thieves is the best of De Sica’s trio, wringing tears and tragedy from the humble tale of an unemployed man finding work – only to have his redemption snatched from under him. Follow-up Miracle In Milan sees a jolly group of hobos benefitting from divine intervention as they battle capitalists. It works – kind of – De Sica conjuring some heavenly SFX to “stop neo-realism from becoming a formula”. Umberto D, meanwhile, audits the sad, lonely life of an OAP and his trusty fox terrier.
The set is completed by two belters: Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City and Federico Fellini’s I Vitelloni. The former kick-started the movement, its scruffy plotting, scratchy photography and forlorn, bomb-blasted backdrops galvanising a tale of wartime resistance. The latter was the Swingers of its day, with Fellini’s indolent rat pack chasing beautiful babies. Nino Roto’s swirling score and a giddy party scene hint at fancies to come, but this is the real deal.