“If Mozart had written an opera set in poverty, it might have had this kind of painful beauty.” So wrote Pauline Kael of Vittorio De Sica’s 1946 “Shoeshine,” which has finally been released in a decent region one disc from Entertainment One (though purists will no doubt prefer the region two release from Masters of Cinema). But the film hasn’t aged well, particularly in comparison to the eternally modern work of Roberto Rossellini, and it’s hard from the vantage point of 2011 to know what Kael was responding to. It remains a watchable film, as I write in this week’s New York Times column, but its compromises, sentimentality and aggressive metaphors make it seem a much lesser film than, say, William Wellman’s “Wild Boys of the Road,” made thirteen years earlier.
Meanwhile, Raro Video has released “Adua and Her Friends,” an intriguing 1960 feature by Antonio Pietrangeli that’s almost impossible to pin down, shifting as it does between wry social observation and romantic comedy, before finally settling into a stunning pessimism that recalls film noir. On the basis of this and “Io la conoscevo bene” (1965), Pietrangeli clearly seems a filmmaker worthy of further investigation. He died in an accident during the making of “Come, quando, perché” in 1969, and the film was finished by the gifted Valerio Zurlini (“Girl with a Suitcase”), a director with a similarly porous sense of genre.
The elephant in the room is Terence Malick’s “Tree of Life,” and while I’m reluctant to initiate a new flame war, I guess I’ll man up and admit it didn’t alter my sense of Malick’s regrettable decline. Peter Tonguette has a fine piece at his blog that deals with what I would also identify as the film’s most problematic aspect — the frantic, dissociated editing that needlessly fractures the narrative and prevents the emotions (already rather generic) from taking root. But I suspect there are those who disagree . . .