Renato Castellani – “Two pennies of hope” (1952)

two pennies of hopewho won the equivalent of the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1952, tied with othello by Orson Welles, has been visible for a week in theaters in a restored 4K version.
A work brilliantly obeying the canons of neo-realism.

To achieve it, Renato Castellani immersed himself in deep Italy. In Boscotrecase, near Naples. Not in Cusano as we can sometimes read in the press, this name being specific to fiction (1). Most of the people filmed are residents of this commune. Non-professional actors, therefore. The one who embodies Antonio, the male protagonist, is called Vincenzo Musolino and is from Calabria. The one who plays Carmela, the female protagonist, is called Maria Fiore and was born in Rome. They will certainly make a name for themselves in the world of cinema, but they appear there in their very first film (2).

Antonio and Carmela live in poverty. Especially Antonio. He is the only male in his family, alongside his mother and several sisters. He has no job and is obliged, on his return from military service, to accept odd jobs bringing only a few pennies into the pocket of the household.

Carmela is in love with Antonio. Antonio is more hesitant, but he ends up becoming strongly attached to Carmela. The parents do not see the situation in a good light. The young man’s mother wants him to take care of earning the money that will make it possible to constitute dowries for the nubile sisters. The girl’s father, an authoritarian artificer, does not want an unemployed man as a son-in-law.

The mores of the country are filmed head-on by Castellani. In particular, secular habits, strict rules, stubborn prejudices in terms of man-woman relations before marriage, in the period when a marriage is planned, during marriage. These habits, rules, prejudices disregard what those most concerned think and feel deep down inside.
The general opinion, carried among other things by the voices of peasant women forming a heart – we have here the famous coralità of neo-realist cinema – making fun of Carmela, takes precedence over individual interest and happiness.

It’s because they think a little bit about themselves, because they don’t want to waste their youthful years, that Antonio and Carmela end up bravely facing the reproaches of the young man’s mother and especially the ire of the young woman’s father, and by moving forward with the help that the other inhabitants are willing to give them, with the hope of better days, however slim. This moment of self-affirmation, of revolt against the established order constitutes a very beautiful final sequence.

1649257322 415 Renato Castellani – Two pennies of hope 1952Castellani was, during the war, one of the main representatives of “calligraphy”, alongside filmmakers like Mario Soldati, Alberto Lattuada, Luigi Chiarini. The “calligraphers” make costume films, often adaptations of novels. Sophisticated works, formally licked, keeping away from realism, on the one hand, from fascist propaganda, on the other. Giuseppe De Santis criticized harshly A pistol shotCastellani’s first feature film, in 1942 (3). Close to the underground communist party, co-screenwriter ofOssessione by Luchino Visconti (1942), future author, among other neo-realist monuments, of Bitter rice (1949), De Santis alerts the viewer by evoking a Castellanian work pretentious and sorry, betraying Alexander Pushkin. He considers A pistol shot not far removed from the comedies called “white telephones”, film entertainment intended to make Italians forget the horrors of fascism and the warlike conflicts that shook the planet.

In 1948, Castellani turned to neo-realist cinema, with Under the sun of Rome. Then, in 1950, with E primavera. Then there is, therefore, two pennies of hope. two pennies of hope attracted the wrath of Guido Aristarco, critic and essayist of Marxist obedience famous in Italy during his lifetime (born in 1918, he died in 1996). Aristarco castigates Antonio’s optimism, which he deems blissful. He opposes this character to another Antonio: the one Luchino Visconti films in the earth is shaking (1948). ‘Ntoni, who showed, facing the camera, a strong awareness of the exploitation of man by man. Aristarco writes that, in two pennies of hope – film that has no end, that is to say, for him, of resolution -, “ lack “to the character” a precise awareness of one’s own condition and how to solve one’s personal problems “. What might appear as ” common sense » from Antonio de Castellani « is in fact [pour Aristarco] than the result of a fatalistic and atavistic resignation in the face of the course of things which are as they are because they have to be like this » [Notre traduction] (4).

1649257322 716 Renato Castellani – Two pennies of hope 1952

The historiography, taking into account the comic dimension of two pennies of hope like that, for example, of Miracle in Milan by Vittorio De Sica (1951) or by Bread, love and fantasy by Luigi Comencini (1953), spoke of “pink neo-realism”. An inflection of the first neo-realism, that of the second half of the 1940s, towards what would become the “Italian comedy”. A disengaged realism, having lost its burning dimension of testimony, its deep sense of the tragic.

A few remarks on this…

Humor and caricature, which have something reflexive in two pennies of hope, are a pure delight. You have to see Antonio’s mother talking with her hands, waving her arms in all directions, rolling her eyes, playing comedy in her daily life to – try to – fool her neighbor, and you have to benevolently imagine the probable jubilation with which she played something from his life bordering on the limits of plausibility.
The theater in which the characters are placed – in an article by Cinema NotebooksLo Duca speaks of “Greek amphitheater” and summons Shakespeare (5) – does not prevent them from transpiring a poverty, an indigence that it is difficult to judge artificial.
The dignified and powerful humanity that emanates from the inhabitants of Cusano, who literally wet their threadbare shirts under the leadership of Castellani, is more precious than any ideological-political discourse. And we especially remember the presence of the bubbling and moving Carmela, so young and yet so obstinate. Not necessarily distant, mutatis mutandis, from another Carmela… that of the Sicilian episode of Paisà (Roberto Rossellini, 1946).
The words that Antonio utters at the end of the film, addressed to his mother, concerning the help that the Creator will most likely give to humble people like him and like Carmela, ring in our ears not only as an expression of faith, but also as a word of challenge.


1) The error is made, among others, by Jacques Mandelbaum (cf. two pennies of hope : a picturesque look at Calabrian misery”, The worldMarch 30, 2022 –
It should be noted that if Mandelbaum speaks of Calabria while the action of the film takes place in Campania, it is because the actor who plays the main male character and whose “personal story” inspired the filmmaker was from this region. region.
2) Marie-Claire Solleville, who assisted Renato Castellani in his work, spoke at length about Maria Fiore in a text published in the Cinema Notebooks (n°15, September 1952, pp.52 to 58).
3) See Giuseppe De Santis, in Movie theaterDecember 25, 1942. Reproduced in Nel corso del’ 42Archivio Nazionale Cinematografico della Resistenza, Regione Piemonte, 1990, p.27.
4) See Guido Aristarco in Movie theateranno V, n°84, April 15, 1952. Reproduced in Millenovencento52Archivio Nazionale Cinematografico della Resistenza, Regione Piemonte, 1999, pp.29 to 32.
In a shorter text published in the Cinema NotebooksGuido Aristarco, if he does not hide what he considers to be the limits of the film, highlights its qualities: a “ example of humanity “, a portrait ” perennial ” of the ” street misery and Neapolitan ways of life ” (cf. Cinema Notebooksn°14, July-August 1952, pp.56 to 58).
5) See Lo Duca, in Cinema Notebooksn°13, June 1952, pp.26 to 28.

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Renato Castellani – “Two pennies of hope” (1952)