“I have to find that bicycle.”
An unemployed father (Lamberto Maggiorani) in post-WWII Rome secures a job hanging movie posters, on the contingency that he possess a bicycle — but his happiness quickly turns to sorrow when his bicycle is stolen on his first day of work, and he and his son (Enzo Staiola) search the city in vain for it.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Father and Child
- Italian Films
- Living Nightmare
- Vittorio De Sica Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that the “simple storyline” of “Vittorio De Sica’s classic of post-WWII Italian neo-realism” — “loved by moviegoers, revered by critics” — has “some special moments”, but he argues that “perhaps De Sica is too cruel, not just to his hero but to his audience as well”. However, his specific criticisms about De Sica’s “cruelty” don’t quite hold true: he questions why Maggiorani “always run[s] at half-speed”, yet De Sica simply depicts him attempting in vain to catch up with a quickly-moving, darting bicycle, or maneuvering through thick crowds; and while Peary writes that “De Sica has the gall to include a scene in which the unhappy man takes out pencil and paper to figure out how much money he would have made per month if the bike hadn’t been stolen”, I view this scene as a critical element of Maggiorani’s explanation to his son about why they must remain diligent in their seemingly elusive search for the bike. Later in his review, Peary writes that what he finds “more impressive today than the story of a man retrieving his bike are the shots of postwar Rome” — most noticeably “the crowds” who appear in numerous settings across the city; he notes that “from watching these crowds… we learn the character of the city” and “come to realize that a lone man with a small boy doesn’t stand a chance”.
Like so many other budding young film fanatics, I first saw The Bicycle Thief (a.k.a. The Bicycle Thieves, which many argue is the more accurate title) in a film appreciation class many years ago, and its devastation was so thorough that I put off re-watching it for over two decades. Yet now that I’ve finally viewed it for a second time, it’s clear to me that De Sica deserves accolades for presenting his country’s post-war devastation in such brutal, unflinching terms: we may not enjoy witnessing the suffering of Italy’s citizens, but a neo-realist perspective was ultimately the best choice for depicting the challenges of their existence. As many critics have pointed out, neo-realism isn’t a form of documentary film-making — rather, it’s a highly strategic cinematic perspective that employs the documentary-like use of realistic settings, non-actors, and meaningful, true-to-life scenarios, to powerful effect. Ultimately, The Bicycle Thief isn’t an easy film to sit through, but it remains an essential part of our cinematic history — one which all film fanatics should experience at least once; its images and scenes will likely linger in your memory for years.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Lamberto Maggiorani as Ricci
- Enzo Staiola as Bruno
- A remarkably authentic portrait of post-WWII Rome
Yes, as a classic of early Italian cinema.
- Foreign Gem
- Genuine Classic
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)