[Last Film I Saw] Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Bicycle Thieves poster

English Title: Bicycle Thieves
Original Title: Ladri di bicicletta
Year: 1948
Country: Italy
Language: Italian
Genre: Drama
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Writers:
Luigi Bartolini
Cesare Zavattini
Suso Cecchi D’Amico
Vittorio De Sica
Oreste Biancoli
Adolfo Franci
Gerardo Guerrieri
Music: Alessandro Cicognini
Cinematography: Carlo Montuori
Cast:
Lamberto Maggiorani
Enzo Staiola
Lianella Carell
Gino Saltamerenda
Vittorio Antonucci
Giulio Chiari
Elena Altieri
Carlo Jachino
Michele Sakara
Emma Druetti
Rating: 8.8/10

Bicycle Thieves 1948

Now I can tick another acknowledged masterpiece off my watch-list, De Sica’s timeless Neo-realism opus comprises of a non-professional cast, sternly portrays a grim reality of the post-WWII Italy, sets in a three-days span, Antonio (Maggiorani) is fortuitous enough to procure a job of pasting posters (Rita Hayworth’s lionized poster of GILDA 1946) among the massive unemployed, but a bicycle is a prerequisite to secure the job, it is a luxury for his impoverished family, anyhow, they sell the bedsheets and get a bicycle, it seems that everything is going to be on the right track!

A brief interlude happens when his wife Maria (Carell) detours to visit a seer to remunerate her prophecy, Antonio leaves his new bicycle downstairs and asks some kids playing around to keep an eye on it, then he goes upstairs to find out who is the mysterious woman Maria is visiting, it is an ingenious ploy to incite curiosities of whether the bicycle will be stolen or not, and forebodes the negligence later in the film, the bicycle is purloined in the first day of his work.

Instead of going back home to be enveloped in Maria’s whine and fault-finding, Antonio is a man of action, he contacts his friends for help and the next day, with his elder boy Bruno (Staiola), they roam around Rome and try to find the thief, which we all know is a long shot and it dooms to be a long day. From patrolling the recycling market to pursue a beggar who is in contact with the thief in the church, all the effort turns out to be fruitless, during the church scenes, there is trenchant allusion of religion’s sanctimoniousness, it is no more than a relief station while justice is never an option for a non-believer.

Antonio brings Bruno for a treat despite all the frustrations, it is also a guilty compensation after his harsh behavior towards the innocent boy, the contrast between Bruno and a rich boy in the restaurant is glaringly affecting, it is when an idea comes to Antonio’s mind, out of desperation, he resorts to the seer, to something he gives no credence, and after a bragging twaddle like “you will only find it now or never”, ironically, right after he leaves the seer’s building, the suspect is precisely walking in front of his eyes. Then things come to a maddening climax, without clear evidence and with the aid of a throng of protective neighbors, the thief amateurishly fakes a seizure to earn onlooker’s compassion, even the policeman cannot help Antonio to arrest the miscreant.

In the last resort, Antonio commits the theft to a bicycle, but he is outrun by the masses chasing him and to his mortification, Bruno witnesses everything with sobbed eyes, pragmatically, he is let off the hook, at least the world shows some mercy at the end, the ending sees Antonio and Bruno walk along with the stream of people, the future is unbeknown to them.

Enzo Staiola is naturally endearing as the precocious son to whom audiences will ceaselessly project their empathy, brilliantly cast, so it Lamberto Maggiorani, adheres to life but seethes with anxiety. Alessandro Cicognini’s pensive score is sometimes obtrusive but consistently emotive, and Carlo Montuori’s cinematography enriches the misery with visceral intensity by shedding light on the close-ups to indicate characters’ inner states.

The film is a substantiated indictment for inequity which permeates the society ingrainedly, it doesn’t extol the image of Italians after WII, but it never demonize them either, most of the people are from the struggled class, the moral ambiguity is a blockade to condemn them since life is not easy for any of them. First and foremost the film’s sociological study on humanism enshrined itself as a unsurpassable opus in the entire film history and its appeal is purely timeless.

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2 thoughts on “[Last Film I Saw] Bicycle Thieves (1948)

  1. Dear Isaac your comment left me in tears. I liked the expression “justice is never an option for a non-believer” and I liked the overall appraisal of this timeless masterpiece. Tell you frankly, this movie appeals to sentimental people and portrays a reality which is sadly looming over the current economical crisis. I would like to have a comment from you on the contemporary Italian movies!

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