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.