veemignon: (dearkatya)
[personal profile] veemignon
The Bicycle Thief (1948)

Vittorio De Sica's film, The Bicycle Thief, is the epitome of Italian Neorealism, and so relevant to this day that it hurts. Neorealism was born out of the poverty Italy faced after World War II. They had no money for sets, for great actors, they didn't even have enough money for good weather. It's amazing to think that in the midst of MGM's musical extravaganzas, set in the deepest pit of fantasy, a film like The Bicycle Thief was released. Audiences were appalled. Such stark realism in a period where everyone wanted to forget, everyone wanted to escape into these larger-than-life musicals. And here is a simple film about a man trying to get a job and support his family.

Lamberto Maggiorani, playing the lead character Antonio Ricci, was a factory worker before this film. They didn't have sets, so if it rained (which it does) De Sica had to adapt. Portrayed here are rather startling revelations: Ricci's little boy Bruno going to work instead of school in the morning, a rampant race to find a job, and an item as simple as a bicycle that threatens the livelihood of Antonio Ricci's family. Ricci receives a job rolling out posters of Rita Hayworth on walls but on his first day, his bicycle is stolen. He spends the rest of the film searching for it with the help of his son. And that's all you need. Neorealism was about the problems an everyday man faces.

Ricci's constant search for his bicycle could be seen as Italy trying to regain the wealth they once had. And while at first, ventures seem promising, that fortune is suddenly and constantly out of grasp. It leads Ricci to distrust his neighbors, the very people who are of his own Italian blood. No authoritative figure comes in and solves his problem, and the boy he believes to have stolen his bike appears to be a poor kid with epilepsy. I was amazed with the screen presence De Sica was able to coax out of Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola as the child, Bruno. In these characters, I saw much truth, especially considering my family. While the dad takes no crap out of his child, the little boy takes no crap off of his dad either. It's only in the small moments that Ricci realizes how much he loves his son. In one scene, when men start trying to save a boy who is possibly drowning, Ricci believes that it might be his son, after chastising him. He never says a word to his boy when he sees him safe on the bridge, but he insists they go out for pizza afterwards.

This was a form of film that no one had ever seen before. I think now, especially with films that were made off of hand-held cameras, it's become common place. But there's magic in De Sica's narrative, including the brutal ending. I can't help but think that in an American's hands, Ricci and his son would have found the bike or they would have found another job. This is realism though, and this is realism that speaks to America to this day.
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