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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie changed my life. It changed it in the sense that after
seeing it I developed a life-long passion for Italian films after first
seeing it in 1955 when it appeared at a local movie theatre in a
revival five years or so after its original appearance. I was only 13
at the time and somewhat of a precocious chooser of what films to go
see. I have seen THE BICYCLE THIEF ("Bicycle Thieves" in England and
plural as well in its original Italian title) hundreds of times since
and never tire of it. The fact that the film has almost never been out
of circulation since its making and is constantly shown in revivals,
festivals and film classes attests to its endurance. Martin Scorsese
does a glorious appreciation of it in his documentary on the Italian
cinema, IL MIO VIAGGIO IN ITALIA.
What makes it so enduring? What is so damn great about the movie? It is not its trenchant portrayal of post-war Italian poverty and misery. Lots of films did that even better. It is not in any sense of real drama, which is very schematic. Nor even the unforgettably truthful acting, that iconic face of pint-sized Enzo Staiola. We get truthful acting and iconic faces all over the place. It is, I believe, its sense of compassion, its sense of poetry. Those are rarer qualities. The movie is compassionate poetry. I don't know if writer Cesare Zavattini or director Vittorio De Sica would have appreciated that phrase. I feel they might have. I feel it is exactly the truth they were after. To be sure, the film is a story of father and little-boy in search of what is lost, a necessity yes, but also a lost dream. The endangered hope for a better life to come challenges this paternal/filial relationship. In that sense, this is a film-poem, God help me, about Everyfather and Everylittleboy.
The most chilling moment in the poem occurs when little Bruno sees his father steal, and a tearful horror glazes his face as a god seems to collapse. The most redemptive moment comes shortly thereafter when the boy slips his hand into his father's. That forgiveness is not cheap or facile. It is unassailable and all-comforting. It is a forgiving embrace of Virgilian dignity. For a magnificent instant the father, Antonio, has become the son; Bruno, the son, has become the father. At the end, when they walk off into the Roman crowd, they are as one.
I have written many thoughts about this film over the years, including an extended exegesis for a local newspaper. I have programmed it in film series, shown it to film classes, Italian classes. I know the movie. Friends, the movie is not about stolen bicycles, indifferent police, bicycle chop-shop gargoyles, mouth-foaming lowlife, desperate actions by the desperate, or mere journalistic human interest that is gone with tomorrow's edition. Its worth resides in its lyric portrayal of the eternal curative power of love. No small thing.
Two addenda: the song being rehearsed at the workers' club Antonio visits to see his friend is called "Ciccio Formaggio." The song being sung and played by the restaurant musicians when Antonio and his son eat together is "Tummuriata nera," about the mulatto offspring of an Italian woman and a black soldier. The lyrics for both songs, in Neapolitan dialect, can be found by Googling the titles. Recordings by Roberto Murolo of both songs are available.
In post-World War II Italy poverty is a dire reality for a large portion of the population. Work is scarce and the opportunities for employment are few and far between. "Ladri Di Biciclette" (translated "The Bicycle Thief") is quietly one of the finest films ever produced. It follows one economically distraught man (Lamberto Maggiorani) who is heading down a desperate path fast. Things look up when he gets a job putting posters on walls in town, but he must sell what few meager possessions he and his family have to buy a bicycle to uphold his end of the business bargain. Naturally tragedy strikes immediately as the title character shows up the very first day Maggiorani is on the job. The police are little help, believing the bicycle is not as important as it really is. Thus Maggiorani and young son Enzo Staiola take it upon themselves to look all over town to try and find the bicycle and bring the thief to justice. "The Bicycle Thief" was originally released in 1948 and won an Honorary Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film the following year (the movie was not released in the U.S. until 1949). It is still a production that strikes deep even today. The lengths and desperate measures that some go through is very evident here. Director Vittorio De Sica crafts a film that is much deeper than it appears on the surface. It examines the human condition and questions society, family, law enforcement, alliances and mental anguish perfectly. "The Bicycle Thief" is an excellent production that has aged well and allows the viewer to think about many subjects that go beyond ordinary cinematic depths. 5 stars out of 5.
The Italian neo-realist film movement began around the end of WWII with
Roberto Rossellini's OPEN CITY in 1946. It is defined and encapsulated by
this striking film directed by Vittorio De Sica. THE BICYCLE THIEF is the
best of a group of films that depicted the hardship and despair that
Europeans, specifically Italians, went through after the death and
destruction of the war. The economy was horrible, and the towns and cities
were half-destroyed and decaying. Rome is the location for THE BICYCLE
THIEF and De Sica shoots the city in grainy black and white with
non-professional actors to get a simple, yet unbearingly emotional point
across. A simple thing such as a bike can be someone's entire world at that
time and losing it means doing something irrational or perhaps
The lead in the film is played by Lamberto Maggiorani who seems to be a very good actor. He is not an actor, however, and maybe this is why the film hits its mark so well and comes across so realistically. Maggiorani is of this difficult world and his brooding face is a clear indication of this. His job is to plaster film posters up on the walls of buildings all over Rome. He even hangs a picture that symbolizes the absolute opposite of the misery surrounding him. Rita Hayworth from GILDA is on the walls all over the city, a sign of joy to some, a representation of their own lowly status to others.
When the bicycle is actually stolen, the "title" character is sought after by Maggiorani and his young son (Enzo Staiola), a little kid with so much acting ability, you swear this must be a documentary. A grueling search throughout Rome has the essential parts of the movie, because we see up close the actual people and places the neo-realist film movement came to represent. It is a small, sad world they live in and the bike has to be found so that they can live. The father is put to the ultimate test in front of his son. Will he do the honorable thing or will he do what his mind and heart know is only possible? These are the tense moments of the film's climax.
There is a lot of THE BICYCLE THIEF in Benigni's LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and some obvious comparisons have been drawn because of the father-son relationship. They are worthy of comparison and have equal artistic prowess. What is different about THIEF is the level of intensity maintained throughout. I felt the key element was the music by Alessandro Cicognini, a simple horn that plays so tragically that it is a main character in the picture. What De Sica does here, as well as other neo-realist directors (Rossellini, Fellini), is create for American audiences a powerful counterpoint to what we are used to. An honest, non-corporate portrait of the struggle for life and self-respect. THE BICYCLE THIEF is one of the finest films ever made.
RATING: 10 of 10
Vittorio De Sica's ground/heartbreaking motion picture, The Bicycle
Thief, is based on a very simple ideal for a story- man against the
elements. In this case the elements are of a society that is often
cruel and unforgiving, and that a job in post-war Rome is looked on as
the luckiest of good luck charms.
Such a man as presented by De Sica is Maggiorani (an actor who really is the type of actor right off the street), a father of a little boy who gets a job putting up movie posters along some walls in Rome. To do this he needs a bicycle, or the job will be lost, and he gets one following a pawning of linen sheets. Very soon though, the bicycle is stolen, and from there a sad downward spiral unravels for the man and his son as they scour the streets for the bicycle.
While the score adds basic dramatic tension, everything else on the screen is done to such a pitch of neo-realism it's at times shattering, joyful (scene in the pizzeria the most note-worthy), and with a feeling of day-to-day resonance to those who may have not even felt at or below the poverty level in their lives. Credit due to all parties involved, though I don't think the boy Bruno, played by Staiola, gets nearly enough considering his role as a minor coming of age (that moment after the father and son leave the church nearly brought tears to my eyes). A++
It is post-war Rome and much of the city's residents are impoverished and
desperate for work. One man named Ricci who haunts the job lines day after
day to provide for his wife and two children, when suddenly his name is
called for a well-paying city job. The only catch is that he needs a
bicycle for the job, and he has just pawned his bicycle in order to feed his
family. Thus begins `The Bicycle Thief', Vittorio de Sica's gritty study in
realism. Ricci and his wife sell the sheets off of their beds to get the
bicycle back, only to have the bicycle stolen on his first day on the job.
In order to keep the job, he and his young son walk around Rome, desperate
to find the thief, and more importantly, the bicycle before his next day of
de Sica chose non-actors to portray the characters in the film, favoring a further realistic vision by casting amateurs. The result is remarkable, because the pain and emotions conveyed are so true. The relationship between father and son is also compelling and endearing, in that for the most part, Ricci treats his son as an equal, letting him in on his innermost thoughts and fears, until the end, when a particular event causes him to be ashamed, and the roles become defined once again.
`The Bicycle Thief' personifies the refreshing fact that European cinema was more daring and also true in their reaction to post-war life. While America was trying to paint a heavy coat of rosy paint on the times by churning out the saccharine MGM musicals by the dozen, Europe was showing that the effects of a war fought on their home turf did not inspire moments of spontaneously breaking into song, or a choreographed dance number, rather life pretty much sucked, but survival, as difficult and ugly as it can be, is most important. `The Bicycle Thief' has been a critical favorite for decades, and for good reason. It is a must-see film for any cinephile.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Lord of the Rings and I
respect people's right to obsess over whatever they wish. Nonetheless,
it does often irritate the cynic in me that we're teaching a generation
of kids that there is a distinct borderline between 'good' and 'evil',
between 'justice' and 'injustice', that there exists such a thing as a
'hero', when in reality there is actually nothing of the sort.
Ladri di Biciclette is a shining example of a film that demonstrates this fact. There is no distinction between the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys'. At times we support one character, or the others. But there is never a line drawn between one side or the other because in reality, the only people we see here are simply human - flawed, corruptible and in this case, all suffering the same tragic fate. Our central character Antonio is obviously the protagonist, and he is obviously portrayed in such a way that our sympathies lie with him, but he is far from being a hero. He is simply used as the representation of the tragic misfortune that can befall mankind. This misfortune, also, is not depicted in any black-and-white sense. Antonio and his family's plight is not the only, or even necessarily the most desperate, in this film. In fact, with the exception of the family in the restaurant scene, practically every single character, major or minor, is portrayed as suffering in some way at the hands of capitalism.
Therefore, as obviously tragic as Antonio's story is, the only real reason we side with him is because his particular tragedy is centrally focused. But, as has been discussed so often previously, he is an Everyman character. The bicycle in the film is simply used as an analogy for the loss, or lack of any essential element of life that leads to poverty and suffering. In very simple terms, the film's message is essentially that at some stage in life, we are all shouting "Give me back my bicycle!"
But I digress. This simplistic and amateurish film is far more real and far more true-to-life than practically anything that Hollywood has churned out in the past fifty years. For that reason, the realist in me believes that all those dreamers, people who believe in a happy ending or ideal status quo, could do with the sort of down-to-earth lesson that this film represents.
Yes, it's a distressing and bleak vision. But nevertheless, an utterly profound one.
....is the relationship of the father and son.
Watch the film with your focus on the son, not the father. Watch what happens to the boy, what he sees, how he is influenced, his point of view. The father is so preoccupied with the bicycle he fails to see what is happening to his son. This is the strength of the film. Watch the boy.
The Bicycle Thief is without a doubt De Sica's masterpiece of Italian
neorealism filmmaking. It is a true landmark in cinema history.
A man who has been unemployed for months is finally given a chance at a job putting up posters. He and his family have been living in poverty for months, and are very exited to hear the news. The only requirement for the job is a bicycle. His wife pawns the sheets off of their own bed in order to buy the bicycle. And, as you can tell from the title, it is stolen on his first day of work. Now, without it, he and his son search the crowded streets of Rome for the only thing that can give him back his dignity as a man.
This is a simple, but very powerful film and I found the relationship between Bruno and his father especially touching. The final scene is a true captivating moment as Bruno witnesses the true nature of man and the world we have created for ourselves.
Don't miss this film, to call it a classic would be an understatement.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A film of real life, real emotions, real people. Bicycle Thieves was a film like no other because it was made like no other. With non actors, natural light, filmed on locations, the film captured the truth of Neorealism. The film is made up of a series of "small moments." The fact is, the entire movie is made up of pureness. It tackles issues of class, politics, and post war activities. Overall, the film is about life and hope. The unhappy ending only makes the film more real. If you are a son who loved his father and understood who he was and why he was the way he was........watch this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Even if you are merely a moderate fan of cinema you will have at least
heard of this film. It has been hailed as a masterpiece for just short
of sixty years and has been routinely studied in film classes
everywhere. In a sense, it is one of the recognized masterpieces of
cinema. And yet, this is not a film in which to pick up obviously great
shots like the 360 degree shot in the hotel room in "Vertigo" or cuts
as good as the jump cut in "2001: A Space Odyssey" with which Kubrick
transports you from prehistoric ages to an age in which space travel is
common in barely a second. This is a subtle, realistic film, and though
it looks terrific, it is not flashy. It exists not to excel technically
or tell the story of humanity, but simply to tell a story. A simple
story which may say more about human nature than any other film in
"Bicycle Thieves" is about a man in economically depressed post-World War II Italy who is lucky enough to find a job which requires him to use a bicycle as transportation while putting up posters around the city. It's relatively well-paying and almost too good to believe for his family. While on the job his bicycle is stolen, and the rest of the movie tells the story of him and his son attempting to recover the bicycle.
In the magnificent final scene Antonio Ricci (the lead character) finds himself tempted to steal a bicycle in order to be able to perform his job. Here we have our 'hero' thinking about doing to someone else what was done to him. There is no black and white in the world, no good and evil. This film does a great job of stating that fact without moralizing and preaching like so many modern films do. This film does not insult your intelligence and I pity those who wanted a third act, or those who wanted more explanation. This film is beautiful and brilliant because it is completely understated. It's realistic. We feel Ricci's desperation and are transported into 1940's Rome as he makes his way through the city's crowded streets, alleyways, churches and brothels.
I have no idea how much this film cost to make, but I would be surprised if it was made on a low budget. The location shooting throughout the city is impressive, as is the (again) understated cinematography. De Sica cast non-actors in the lead roles, and I find their performances to be among the most realistic and effective I've ever seen. Alessandro Cigognini's score is a highlight of the film, and I consider the melancholy main theme one of the greatest musical cues I've heard in any film.
I enjoy theatricality as much as anyone and I certainly don't dislike Hollywood gloss, but "Bicycle Thieves" serves as a jarring reminder of how great a medium film can be. The jarring effect the film had on audiences upon its release (in particular American audiences) is easy to understand viewing the film in 2007 and it escapes my comprehension how anyone can't be completely captivated and enthralled by this masterwork.
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