Cesare Zavattini; Creative Force in Italy’s Postwar Film Industry

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Scenarist Cesare Zavattini, a seminal part of the Italian postwar film scene who with director Vittorio De Sica gave the world such motion picture triumphs as “The Bicycle Thief,” “Shoeshine,” “Two Women” and “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” died Friday in Rome.

Reuters news agency said he was 86.

In the 1940s Zavattini emerged through his screenplays and theoretical writings as a key figure of Italian neo-realism.

The movement examined chaotic urban conditions in the aftermath of World War II with incisive simplicity.


The influence of the neo-realistic movement was felt not just in the United States, where it blossomed, but in such distant countries as India and Japan.

His script for “The Bicycle Thief” was credited with influencing India’s Satyajit Ray to make “Pather Panchali” in 1955.

A journalist before turning to screenwriting, Zavattini often even discarded the thin thread on which his pictures hung as they were evolving. He said the story was to him “simply a technique of superimposing dead formulas over living social facts.”

His treatment of film, he suggested, was nearer to modern literature’s stream of consciousness techniques than those being used in contemporary cinema.

Zavattini also encouraged the late De Sica to utilize ordinary people in his films rather than polished actors.

His battle was against the capitalism that had dominated the film industry. Neo-realistic films, he was quoted as saying in the International Dictionary of Films and Film Writers, had to depict poverty because “it is one of the most vital realities of our time . . . and the theme of poverty, of rich and poor, is something one can dedicate one’s life to.”


Zavattini’s career ranged from “I’ll Give a Million” in 1936 to “The Children of Sanchez” in 1978.

Some of his other better-known pictures are “The Sky Is Red,” “Indiscretion of an American Wife,” “Umberto D.,” “Boccaccio ‘70,” “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” and “A Place for Lovers.”