Born in Luzzara, near Reggio Emilia in northern Italy, on 20 September 1902, Zavattini studied law at the University of Parma, but devoted himself to writing. In 1930 he relocated to Milan, and worked for the book and magazine publisher Angelo Rizzoli. After Rizzoli began producing films in 1934, Zavattini received his first screenplay and story credits in 1936. In 1935, he met Vittorio De Sica, beginning a partnership that produced some twenty films, including such masterpieces of Italian neorealism as
- Sciuscià (Shoeshine, 1946)
- Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, American release title, The Bicycle Thief, 1948),
- Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan, 1951) and
- Umberto D. (1952)
In his only experience in Hollywood, Zavattini wrote the screenplay for The Children of Sanchez (1978) based on Oscar Lewis’s book of the same title, a classic study of a Mexican family. At the 11th Moscow International Film Festival in 1979, he was awarded the Honorable Prize for the contribution to cinema. In 1983 he was a member of the jury at the 13th Moscow International Film Festival.
Among the many celebrated directors of Italian and international cinema Zavattini worked with in his more than 80 films are:
- Vittorio de Sica,
- Michelangelo Antonioni,
- Hall Bartlett,
- Alessandro Blasetti,
- Mauro Bolognini,
- Mario Camerini,
- René Clément,
- Federico Fellini,
- Pietro Germi,
- Alberto Lattuada,
- Mario Monicelli,
- Elio Petri,
- Dino Risi,
- Roberto Rossellini,
- Mario Soldati
- Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
- Luchino Visconti.
- I'll Give a Million (1936)
- Piruetas Juveniles / Romanzo a passo di danza (1943)
- Un giorno nella vita (1946)
- Sperduti nel buio (1947)
- Vent'anni (1949)
- L'oro di Napoli ("The Gold of Naples", 1954)
- La Ciociara ("Two Women", 1960)
- I sequestrati di Altona ("The Condemned of Altona", 1962)
- L'isola di Arturo ("Arturo's Island", 1962)
- Ieri, oggi e domani ("Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow", 1963)
- Un monde nouveau (1966)
- Caprice Italian Style (1968)
- I girasoli ("Sunflower", 1970)
- Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini ("The Garden of the Finzi-Continis", 1970)
- Una breve vacanza ("A Brief Vacation", 1973)
- Lo chiameremo Andrea (1975)
- Mino Argentieri, Neorealismo ecc. / Cesare Zavattini, Milano : Bompiani, 1979.
- Guglielmo Moneti, Lessico zavattiniano : parole e idee su cinema e dintorni, Venezia, Marsilio, 1992.
- Félix Monguilot Benzal, Piruetas juveniles: génesis, desarrollo y fortuna de la película olvidada de Cesare Zavattini en España, Actas del XIII Congreso de la AEHC, Vía Láctea Editorial, Perillo, 2011, pp. 381–390.
- Cesare Zavattini, Parliamo tanto di me, Milano, Bompiani, 1977.
- Cesare Zavattini at the Internet Movie Database retrieved October 15, 2006
- Cesare Zavattini - Official website (Italian), retrieved October 15, 2006