Bicycle Thieves

"Essential"

Bicycle Thieves Review


Few films have had their titles put under such intense scrutiny as Vittorio De Sica's 1948 neo-realist masterpiece. Originally, the translated title was simply The Bicycle Thief, referencing the perpetrator of the film's titular crime. However, later digging and arbitration led to it being called The Bicycle Thieves or just Bicycle Thieves, which references more to the fact the social realism, poverty and desperation that most of the men in Italy felt at the time. Ostensibly, it meant that we are all bicycle thieves, and we are all capable of doing heartless things to maintain one's own way of life.

On a street, Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) stands with a crowd of unemployed family men, all hands-up and crying for a job. The only job available requires a bicycle and though he doesn't have one, Ricci quickly raises his hand announcing that he has such a bike. By selling the sheets off his bed, Ricci and his son Bruno (Gino Saltamerenda) are able to procure a hocked bike from a local pawn shop. And so, the man and his boy go off on their job: Pasting large posters to walls around the city. Ricci is not far into his workday when the bicycle, out of his eyeline, is stolen. Ricci and Bruno spend the rest of the day trying to catch the thief and win back employment and a better life.

De Sica, never much for pick-me-ups, strews his landscape with symbols of the mass poverty that was 1940s Rome. When in the pawn shop, we watch a worker climb to the top of the room, near the ceiling, and place Ricci's sheets on a huge pile of other sheets, hundreds and thousands of them from people in Ricci's exact position... or worse. The delicacy of De Sica's compositions is crucial to the simplicity of the story: the tightened streets of Rome and the bemused sunlight that pops into their eyes sporadically. Every corner that Ricci and Bruno turn lends itself to emotional suspense, for the object that means a better future (and the man who stole it) might be right there as well. In a moment of lost hope, Ricci and his son go into a small restaurant and enjoy a slice of pizza and a little nip of wine while a family feasts on huge platters of food in the background; the simplicity of such imagery, explored with such sustained craftsmanship, compels unwavering adoration for the film.

Film theorist Andre Bazin once commented that De Sica's film was quite possibly the quintessential example of "pure cinema." In that notion, it's easy to see why: Every action in De Sica's film has a reaction that affects the characters and the film itself. This can be seen these days in the films of the Dardenne brothers and in last year's monumental The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. But it was De Sica, both here and in his equally marvelous Umberto D., who first fully harnessed this idea of the true cinematic illusion of reality.

Bazin also had the humor to call the film "truly insignificant," not in its cultural or historical importance, but in its content. At no time does the film exploit its characters or its ideals for the sake of story, and yet there are few characters that are more fully realized and deeply felt as Ricci. Not only did Bicycle Thieves turn cinematic secularism on its head, but it honestly detailed the existence of Italian citizens, left poor and socially distraught while America turned their back on them because of a high-ranking communist party. As for the title: a rose by any other name...

Aka Ladri di biciclette.



Bicycle Thieves

Facts and Figures

Run time: 93 mins

In Theaters: Tuesday 13th December 1949

Distributed by: ENIC

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 52 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 8.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer:

Starring: Asif Ali as Chackochan, Aparna Gopinath as Meera, Salim Kumar as Jose Prakash, Vijay Babu as Kashi, Sunil Sukhada as School Principal

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