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The Bicycle Thief

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The Bicycle Thief

 

Vittorio de Sica I 1948 I Italy 

 

 

The Bicycle Thief is an example of neorealist cinema, a film movement which was born approximately after the end of the Second World War. This new technical and thematic concept of cinema supposed more than a mere movement of expressive renovation: it was a presumable reaction against the consecutive malice of fascism. For many freedom defenders it had been difficult to find an effective, honest medium with which to portray the world of that immediate social reality in which there were as many indirect and direct victims of the war. That first notable push, so to speak, consulates successfully from 1945, year of the ally victory and the fall of Mussolini. Amid the '40s, films such as Rome, open city, Miracle in Milan, The Earth Trembles, Shoeshine and others that I have probably omitted undoubtedly ignited that change of sense in the art of cinema. But the one and only film that topped this stunning revolutionary cycle and reached the peak of Italian neorealism was Vittorio de Sica's The Bicycle Thief.

 

The first thing that springs to mind when watching this film is the word simplicity. The Bicycle Thief is purely simple, it's not just visible; it's utterly palpable, too. There is nothing technically new or fresh about the film, you can see that it was not made for a big amount of money and the story is as straightforward as it can get. Note, however, that I didn't use the term 'simplistic' to describe the film. There is a vast difference between the two, and the film is anything but that. The picture would have ended up being just that, a numeration of adversities parting from a banal anecdote, if it weren't for the brilliance with which it's told.

 

As for the plot, it could be summarised in only one sentence, but here it is, anyway: Antonio Ricci, unemployed for over two years, is overjoyed when he's finally given a job putting up posters. However, he needs a bicycle as a requirement of the job, so he pawns the family linen to get a used bicycle back. He goes off to his first day's work, truly happy for the first time in years, until his bike is stolen by the title's character.

 

The crude black and white evidently contributes in underlining the sadism of the characters and the situations they are found in; the suburbs of Rome and the people who scantily lived there, wounds that don't heal, overwhelming fights to live. The film presents us a world in which none of us would want to live, yet, the thing is, it all occurred, this is all true. The film, in general terms, is nothing more and nothing less than a simplification of post-war reality. Shot on location in Rome, De Sica purposefully avoided the city's most striking monuments in order to make the story more universal. The grisly ambient, the agonising pass of time, the monotony of daily events, these elements all combine to form a world which is certainly sombre, and very at that. The sad fact is that upon viewing the film one realises with perfect clarity the way people lived in that time, how they fought for justice and longed for some food to eat. The film shows us the bad side of life, with both accuracy and painful honesty. It tells us: this, lamentably, is the way people lived then.

 

One of the components that I most liked about the film was the acting. Italian neorealist pictures were famed for using non-professional actors in order to provide the film with a more realistic tone, and The Bicycle Thief does that very thing, not just nicely but wonderfully. In fact, Lamberto Maggiroani, the film's lead, was a 39 year old steelworker who lost his real job after the film finished production. Vittorio de Sica definitely knows how to treat his actors, and one can instantly see that his level of commitment is abundant. He pulls the finest performances he can from his actors and the work off the camera all translates incredibly well onto the screen; the realism with which the film is depicted, again, mainly due to the actors astonishing work, often made me wonder whether what I was seeing was a film or actual images from real life. Yes, it's that amazing, really. Enzo Staiola, who plays Antonio's son, Bruno, is very, very convincing indeed. As a matter of fact, I found the scenes with him and his dad to be some of the finest of the film. The chemistry between the two is unbelievable, and the father and son relationship even more so.

 

The connection between the viewer and the characters is solid. We feel the characters exasperation as they go on a search for the missing bike, we are able to relate to them, we even share their sorrow and anger; on the whole, we identify with their feelings. The unfairness of post-war Rome is finely illustrated here, as we contemplate Antonio and his son venture into many different situations, most of the time theyre discriminated, ignored, hurt. Despite all the negativity and ugliness that the film presents us with, it still is able to maintain a fairly optimistic nature, it tells us that there is still hope, and that's a mesmerising thing. Not only because it fills our hearts with sanguinity but because it gives us a message. And we learn from it. Isn't it just great when a film, besides being artistically formidable, gives us something to learn? The Bicycle Thief is heart-wrenching and profoundly moving, telling us one man's struggle to feed his family. The ending, besides being brilliant, inundates us with hope. In every sense of the word, The Bicycle Thief is a treasure of 20th century cinema. 

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Reviewed by Pablo Hernandez, 2003