Bicycle Thieves

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #374: Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves.

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Bicycle Thieves is one of those films that ends up on every Film History syl­labus. It shouldn’t be avoid­ed, but I think that it ap­pre­ci­ates to a view­er who has ac­tu­al­ly had to live and scrounge to make ends meet in the re­al world. It cer­tain­ly has done so for me and will prob­a­bly do so again when I have chil­dren of my own. In post-war Italy, times are tough and jobs are non-ex­is­tent. Ricci, the main char­ac­ter, some­how man­ages to get a job post­ing bills. The on­ly re­quire­ment is that he needs a bike for trans­porta­tion. Currently his bike is sit­ting in a pawn shop. His wife de­cides to pawn their sheets so that they can get the bike back and Ricci can take the job. On his first day, his Fides gets stolen by a gang of thieves. Thankfully it is the week­end, so Ricci can spend the rest of the movie look­ing for one bike and one thief among thou­sands in all of Rome. If this brief sketch isn’t hard­core enough for you, the rest of the film, and its at­ten­dant de­tails should do the trick. At every step of the way De Sica makes sure that Ricci gets the mer­da end of the stick.

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This Passion is made all the more pow­er­ful by the ac­tors play­ing the parts. Lamberto Maggiorani [who plays Ricci] and Jim Caviezel bear an eerie re­sem­b­lence to each oth­er, both have long-suf­fer­ing but sto­ic faces. Enzo Staiola [who plays Ricci’s son Bruno] is per­haps the cutest and most feisty lit­tle guy in any film ever. As they trav­el to­geth­er through­out Rome, search­ing for the bi­cy­cle, Ricci must con­tin­u­al­ly put on a brave face to main­tain the hope in his son, even as his own des­per­a­tion grows. They search the bike mar­ket to no avail, and Bruno at­tracts a child mo­les­ter while Ricci ac­costs a bike me­chan­ic. Nothing bad hap­pens to Bruno, but it is ob­vi­ous that Ricci is be­ing dri­ven to dis­trac­tion by the loss of his Fides. Later, he even dis­rupts a prayer ser­vice [for a Roman Roman Catholic to dis­rupt a Catholic ser­vice in Rome…] as he tries to track down the boy who stole his bike. Even when he suc­ceeds at this, the boy turns out to be epilep­tic and an en­tire neigh­bor­hood turns again­st Ricci. In the end, he at­tempts to steal a bike in front of his ter­ri­fied son, and even fails at this. Only at the mer­cy of the vic­tim is Ricci set free. Ricci and Bruno, both cry­ing, walk in­to the crowd.

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It is def­i­nite­ly the small things that turn this film in­to a mas­ter­piece of de­struc­tion. Ricci, the man of the fam­i­ly, has no job — al­though his wife and even Bruno are em­ployed. He is com­plete­ly emas­cu­lat­ed through no fault of his own, and in the end, his young son is the on­ly one who can of­fer him love and sup­port. Bruno doesn’t un­der­stand why his fa­ther would have done some­thing so hor­ri­ble as steal a bike, but he re­al­izes that pa­pa is in se­ri­ous pain and of­fers the on­ly thing he has to give, his hand. When Ricci’s con­trol fi­nal­ly breaks, the view­er is sit­ting right at the bot­tom of the bar­rel with him. It all sounds a bit mawk­ish in my de­scrip­tion, but the film isn’t melo­dra­mat­ic at all. It is heartrend­ing be­cause of its re­al­ism; and the ded­i­cat­ed, ex­act­ing de­vel­op­ment of the plot. The small things add up to some­thing that no man can face alone; a so­ci­ety with no use and no pity for him, in that or­der.

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Criterion Essay by Godfrey Cheshire.
Movie Diva re­view.
Strictly Film School syn­op­sis.
Interview with Suso Cecchi d’Amico, screen­writer.
• Trailer on YouTube.

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