Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) (1948)

Director: Vittorio De Sico

Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell, Vittorio Antonucci

Written by: Vittorio De Sica, Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Gerardo Guerrieri, Oreste Biancoli, Adolfo Franci (story) Luigi Bartolini

Running Time: 93 mins

Original UK Cert: U

Original US Release: 13th December 1949

Born after World War II, Italian Neo-realism was a style of film making that used realistic settings and unprofessional actors to convey a simply structured story., mainly to capture the mood and feel of life in Italy. Robert Rossellini’s ground-breaking Rome, Open City, first introduced us to the genre when it became almost impossible for the director to complete his studio based feature. The genre continued to grow, with many film maker able to construct decent films about life in their country. One of the most highly respected of them is Vittorio De Sico’s moving Bicycle Thieves, a simple story that speaks volumes about the time.

Jobs are very hard to come by so when Ricci gets the opportunity to post advertising posters around the town, he is slightly reluctant to accept as the position demands a bicycle. Ricci has pawned his bike to raise money for food but the job is far to important for his wife that she is willing to pawn their bed sheets to get his vehicle back. Proud that he is earning again, Ricci feels he can hold his head up high until, while on a job, his bike is stolen by a young man. In pure desperation and in order for him not to lose this employment, Ricci, with his young son by his side, starts to hunt for it, forming a closer bond with his boy while becoming increasingly desperate to find it.

While the plot may not sound all that exciting; this doesn’t have huge set pieces or massive action scenes, De Sico’s film deals with the human condition, with life in a time when everything has been taken away and so a sense of purpose is just as important as putting food on a table. We follow Ricci from proud employee to a man willing to go to any lengths in order to keep that pride, even if it means turning the whole city upside-down searching for the man who stole his beloved bike.

The film can be looked upon as a historical snapshot of the conditions that Italians were facing. The opening shots where desperate men, willing to do anything for a job, gather round steps in the vain hope that their name will be called out when something becomes available, with carpenters willing to sacrifice their own careers just to earn a penny sticking up posters. It sets the mood of the piece perfectly. De Sico doesn’t try to glamorize things or show things in a positive light and although it has a very downbeat feel, you constantly sympathise with Ricci’s plight.

Another nice touch is the inclusion of Ricci’s son on this epic journey. He is pulled from pillar to post looking for any clues to finding the bike, while at the same time the father/son relationship grows ever stronger. None more so than when Ricci takes his son into a restaurant and his boy witnesses a rich family having a meal, with Ricci promising the same once the bike has been retrieved. The influence of the relationship could be seen in other Italian films like Life Is Beautiful and Cinema Paradiso.

Considering the cast are all non-professionals, they are exceptional. Because they are not trained actors, the level of truth in their performances are lifted, especially from Lamberto Maggiorani as Ricci. You can see the pain etched in his face as he has a sense of foreboding in searching for something that could never be found. The final scene is almost heartbreaking as he has to turn to desperate measures in front of his boy.

Bicycle Thieves (also known as The Bicycle Thief) is a must-see film if you have a love and passion for cinema. It has more heart, more passion, more depth than most modern films while at the same time capturing the true centre of a world after it has been brought to its knees. A breathtaking, heartbreaking tale of the human condition and a masterpiece of world cinema.


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