Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Writers: Vittorio De Sica, Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Gherardo Gherardi, Oreste Biancoli, Adolfo Franci
Actors: Enzo Staiola, Lamberto Maggiorani
There are certain films that you “need” to watch if you want to get into cinema. Films that are milestones within the industry as a whole. They act as an important marker in history, and people keep that marker alive by constantly praising it as being on of the best along with how influential it was. The issues with these films from someone in the modern era is that since those films inspired so many, they were still lacking in many aspects that ended up being refined because of their contributions. A simple example is in video games, a new genre emerges by a single game. Now that game is important, it was the start of the genre, but it may not be the best at it. Because it may need refinement that takes years to come. What I am trying to get at is that some of these “important films” sometimes feel lacking to someone watching it in 2018 or whenever after. You can see that it is old. Well, Bicycle Thieves does not have that problem. It stands the test of time, and it deserves the right to be called a classic.
Bicycle Thieves happened through a movement known as Italian Neorealism. Which happened between 1943 and 1952. It was fueled by the end of World War II, and the demise of Mussolini’s Government. It took away the focus on Italian cinema away from fantasy and fiction into ultra realistic films focused on the working class. This signified an important shift in the cultural landscape in Italy. Bicycle Thieves stands as one of the key films of this pivotal period in Italian Cinema. It presents a bleak and magnified look at post war Italy. The film revolves around one family, mainly Ricci, a poor man who just got a job hanging posters around Rome. The only problem was he needed a bike to do the job. His wife sacrifices and ultimately sells away their sheets in order to get Ricci a bike. Things are seemingly going well, until suddenly his bicycle gets stolen. The film then takes us on this long journey of Ricci and his son running around Rome looking for the stolen bike, until the heart wrenching conclusion of the story.
The film does a very interesting job at focusing the audience on one aspect then surprising us at the end of the film with a moral dilemma. Throughout the whole film, everyone is siding with Ricci. We all feel his pain. It is not his fault the bike was stolen. He is trying to have an honest living, and his family sacrificed so much for him to be here. However, by the end of the film, the director is giving us another look into the situation. By how desperate Ricci is, he decides to steal a bicycle. Unlike his assailant, he gets caught immediately. The bicycle owner on the other hand decides not to press charges and leave him be. This final sequence played a key role in the perception that the audience has with Ricci. Throughout the film, we think that there is the bad guy (the thief), and the good guy (Ricci). However, the director is showing us that it is not black and white. The world is gray, and the line is blurred between good and evil. It makes you also think, well maybe the person who stole Ricci’s bicycle was put in that situation. Maybe he is even more desperate than Ricci was when he decided to steal. It makes you think. The film initially focused on that one family, but you start to realize that in post-war Italy, most people lived such lives. Which is why I feel like it was such an important shot to have the film end with Ricci and his son blending into the crowd. We see the whole point of the film. If one family can be pushed to that extreme, imagine all of these other people living in the same condition. That realization was like a slap in the face for me, and it is what cemented this film as a great one.
Bicycle Thieves is a really hard film to swallow. It presents a depressing truth on the situation of the working class in Italy after World War II. The utter despair and hopelessness that the people were living in was just heart breaking. It is why this film is so important. Because it manages to capture the struggles of that moment in time and preserve it forever. It makes us realize how sometimes you may be going through something. But if you just step back and look around, you may notice that many others are going through the same, or even worse. It really opens your eyes to the hard truth. I know that is not what some people want out of movies. But I feel like it is something that must be experienced. We must never forget the hard times these people went through. And we should appreciate such films for keeping alive this climax for many to look back on and hopefully never repeat.