Bicycle Thieves (1948) – Vittorio De Sica

It had to happen sooner or later. Working my way through two film books at the same time, one of the titles would have to synch up… And as I continue exploring the fantastic The Movie Book from DK Canada, and delve into the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, this is the one that did it.

The 1948 Italian classic, Bicycle Thieves.

In a plot that would play through countless variations in numberless comedies (except that ending, boy that ending), Bicycle Thieves is a strong, dramatic, and ultimately moving film about a man’s struggle to provide for his family, and how far he’ll go to do it.

It’s post World War II, and Italy is in a depression. Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) and his family live in a small apartment, and are trying to make ends meet. Struggling simply with day to day life that includes no indoor plumbing, and worrying where their next meal is coming from.

When he gets a job as a poster hanger, he’s over the moon, he’ll be able to feed his family, and perhaps even get ahead a little. But he’ll need a bike. He’s pawned his, and they are able to get it out of hock with a few more sacrifices from around the house.

Eager, dedicated, and ready to work and provide… a good working class man… his bike is stolen from him on his first day of work!

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With his son, Bruno (Enzo Staiola) at his side, he sets out to track down his bike, seeking out any lead he can that will lead him to his bicycle, and gainful employment. He passes through churches, encounters with some less than desirables, and many an encounter that seem to hold him back from success.

All of these things would be later transformed into comedy and hilarity in any number of slapstick films, but the story here is powerful, and frustrating, because all Ricci wants to do is tend to his family.

As the film draws to its climax Ricci is pushed to make a decision between right and wrong, but one that would see him keep his job and his family fed. It’s a poignant, well executed moment, and the dolly shot of Bruno as it happens is heartbreaking.

Bicycle Thieves is a powerful film, fascinating, and beautifully made (none of the actors were professionals, and crowd scenes were tightly choreographed – despite that, the scene where young Bruno is almost hit by not one car, but two, was completely unscripted).

De Sica’s film is moving, satisfying, and a brilliant watch. There are commentaries on society, justice, religion, and faith made by the film, but taken on its own, it’s also a moving human drama.

Don’t believe me? Pick up a copy of DK Books’ The Movie Book today and find a classic to watch tonight!

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