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Italian journalist and writer of screenplays for Italian neorealist cinema, Cesare Zavattini is known especially for his collaborations with director Vittorio De Sica. After completing a law degree at the University of Parma, Zavattini wrote two successful novels - Parliamo tanto di me (Let’s Talk A Lot About Me, 1931) and Il poveri sono matti (The Poor Are Crazy, 1937) - before writing the script for Mario Camerini’s classic social satire, (I’ll Give a Million, 1937), starring Vittorio De Sica. In his lifetime, Zavattini completed 126 screenplays, 26 of which were for De Sica as director or actor. He also provided screenplays for such figures as Alessandro Blasetti, Giuseppe De Santis, Luchino Visconti, and Alberto Lattuada, but his work with De Sica established Zavattini as the leading exponent of Italian neorealism in the decade immediately following the end of World War II. But it was the four neorealist classics created by the two friends that made film history: (Shoeshine, 1946), an account of the American occupation that earned the first award for foreign films bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; (The Bicycle Thieves, 1948), a tale of postwar unemployment that received an Oscar for Best Foreign Film; (Miracle in Milan, 1951), a fantastic parable about the class struggle in a fairy-tale Milan; and , a heart-rending tragedy about a lonely pensioner and his dog. Zavattini became the outstanding spokesman for neorealism, advocating the use of nonprofessional actors, a documentary style, authentic locations as opposed to studio shooting, and a rejection of Hollywood studio conventions, including the use of dramatic or intrusive editing. He wrote contemporary, simple stories about common people. In particular, he felt that everyday events provided as much drama as any Hollywood script could produce by rhetorical means or that any special effects and dramatic editing might create. Nevertheless, after neorealist cinema evolved in the late 1950s, Zavattini wrote screenplays for De Sica that enjoyed great commercial success: (Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. 1963), a social satire that garnered an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and featured a legendary striptease for Marcello Mastroianni by Sophia Loren; (Two Women, 1960), an adaptation of an Alberto Moravia novel about the horrible effects of war, which won Loren an Oscar for Best Actress; and (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, 1970), the narration of the destruction of the Jewish community in Ferrara before World War II, which won De Sica his fourth Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
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Compared to the daring experimentalism and use of nonprofessionals in Paisan, De Sica’s neorealist works seem more traditional and closer to Hollywood narratives. Yet, De Sica uses nonprofessionals—particularly children—in both Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thieves even more brilliantly than Rossellini. In contrast to Rossellini’s dramatic editing techniques, which owe something to the lessons Rossellini learned from making documentaries and studying the Russian masters during the Fascist period, De Sica’s camera style favored the kind of deepfocus photography normally associated with and Orson Welles. Shoeshine offers an ironic commentary on the hopeful ending of Rome, Open City, for its children (unlike Rossellini’s) dramatize the tragedy of childish innocence corrupted by the world of adults, the continuation of a theme De Sica began in one of his best films produced before the end of the war, (The Children Are Watching Us, 1943). The moving performances De Sica obtains from his nonprofessional child actors in Shoeshine arise from what the director called being 'faithful to the character': De Sica believed that ordinary people could do a better job of portraying ordinary people than actors could ever do.