English Title: The Roof
Original Title: Il tetto
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Writer: Cesare Zavattini
Music: Alessandro Cicognini
Cinematography: Carlo Montuori
Overshadowed by the international cache of BICYCLE THIEVES (1948), THE ROOF is De Sica’s another neorealism project thrives in his earnest concerns over the hardship of working-class plebeians in Italy in the wake of the end of WWII.
Luisa (Pallotta) and Natale (Listuzzi) are newlyweds, but they have no place of their own, squeeze inside a two-room apartment co-shared with Natale’s ageing parents, his sister’s family, eight people in total. Natale is an apprentice bricklayer, and with the housing projects are booming vigorously after the war, he is pretty optimistic about their future. But the kitchen-sink reality doesn’t give them a break, after squabbling with his brother-in-law Cesare (Renzelli), they decide to move out, a makeshift plan separates them apart, Natale stays in the construction site where he works and Luisa camps with her housemaid friend on the sly, without the consent of the house owner.
Don’t let their tribulation wears you out, the film sturdily resists from being despondent or melancholy, two non-professional leads, Pallotta and Listuzzi (a footballer in real life) generate an engaging atmosphere of uplifting perseverance, they are never deterred by the harsh situations, a mutual understanding seems rather precious under such context, and makes their love so down-to-earth, pure and tender to watch.
Finally, they take advantage of a loophole in the law, to built a one-room brick house overnight, once the roof is done, the house will not be redeemed as illegal property, but if not, policemen can tear it down on the spot. So, with the help of Natale’s co-workers, their undertaking gets off on the wrong foot thanks to a snitch, the first attempt is botched by the sudden arrival of policemen, but, Natale doesn’t cave in, later that night, they find another place near the railways to build their house, it is a race against time, even a pregnant Luisa must do whatever she could to help, including recruit Cesare, a professional bricklayer, for help. Then the next morning, when two policemen approaches, the roof is barely finished, De Sica slyly leaves the roof open to channel a much-needed and anticipated climax in the final bargain – the chief policeman turns a blind eye to the unfinished roof and acquiesces the dwelling, a feel-good ending leaves everyone happy, wide-eyed spectators included.
THE ROOF reflects a softened sentimentality in Zavattini’s otherwise, well-constructed script, also bookends the neorealism phase of De Sica’s directorial orbit, nevertheless, it radiates warmth, optimism and confidence without detaching itself from the slice of life, a truly rewarding piece for your time.