The child scrounger is about as “neorealism” as it gets, pointing toward his counterpart in Buñuel’s Los Olvidados from a couple years later. And it’s not neorealism without a heavy dose of melodrama, which corresponds to the presence and centrality of the child, too. Powerful juxtaposing of the nightclub and the selfish sister with the outside and the altruistic brother. She’s interested in using limited electricity for the hair dryer, he’s trying to provide food for his cowardly brother. Note the sequence setting up the father’s poisoning and death. It’s slow in the sense of being drawn out, but the effect is pure suspense, something almost Hitchcockian – “will he do it?” The sequence is heavily edited with lots of cuts and reverse shots, following the boy from room to room until the deed is done. Somewhat similar editing takes place at the boy’s own tragic, self-inflicted death in the finale. Bazin called this something like “not a film, but part of a film.” Seen through that lens, it does have the character of something unfinished, something partial, but this may fit perfectly with the film’s own content. Everything, particularly the structures in the film, is ruined and dilapidated. Everything is partial, nothing complete. The humans themselves are something less than human, reduced to survival or to their animal impulses, with the one central exception. That Rossellini based the boy on his own dead son makes sense, a broken, and therefore fitting, tribute.
Germany, Year Zero (Roberto Rossellini, 1948)