Bicycle Thieves

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


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.


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.


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.


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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