The 1950s post-war and post-fascism period in Italy was tough on the country’s resources and people, but the mood was positive, especially in children. The concept of the scugnizzo, monello, rascal, urchin or just badly behaved child took on a whole new meaning in Italy.
There is something inherently romantic about the post war memories of the exploits of young boys, born during the war, running free and expressing themselves freely in good and bad ways.
Though “boys will be boys” is a British saying, the mentality was very much upheld in Italy. The lovable rascal, no matter how much of a rascal, is a well known characterization in the country. The rascal in literature predates the second half of the 20th century, with Pinocchio for example, a character created by Carlo Collodi in 1883 or even more so the Giornalino di Gian Burrasca in 1911 written by Vamba. Real boys behaving like menaces though are mainly characterized as post war 1950s boys running wild with cheeky grins and shorts two sizes too big for them.
The monello in De Sica’s “I Ladri di Biciclette”
Italian Neorealist cinema brought these monelli up to date with movies such as Vittorio De Sica’s Sciuscià, (1946) a Neapolitan dialectal term that indicated shoe shiners, which concentrated in the post war conditions of poor Italian children. The film is considered a cornerstone of Neorealism Italiano and one of De Sica’s many successes. Another neorealist De Sica film which touches on the themes of children as street urchins yet positive figures is Ladri di Biciclette (1948), possibly the best movie of the Italian realist genre.
The rascal is not unique to Italy as a portrayal of young boys. Truffault, dedicated an entire film to a rascal, Les Quatre Cent Coups (1959), which turned out to be a seminal work of the Nouvell Vague, and one of the director’s best efforts. In many ways, the film is also a testament to the shared social distress of Italy and France in the post war period.
The concept of the Italian rascal of the 1950s has been exported with success.
In 2011 a short film called “Because there are things you never forget” produced in Spain and directed by Lucas Figueroa tells the story of a group of Neapolitan rascals, playing football in the streets and annoying an old woman to the point of no return.
The very dark short is more than successful, as it is included in the Guinness World of Records for being the most awarded short film ever, counting over 300 international accolades.
The international appeal of the Italian post war scugnizzo, or monello is translated into fashion be Dolce&Gabbana with the Spring Summer 2013 Menswear Collection being informed to the looks and the collective memories of post war Italians and foreigners alike. The oversize clothes, which originally were hand me downs, the shorts, the short suits, the coppole (flat hats), all these elements remand to those 1950s boys and their actions, which no matter how extreme are remembered in a romanticised version as a representation of freedom, liberation and innocence.
Credits: I Ladri di Biciclette
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