“Bicycle Thieves,” (1948) opened my eyes to the possibilities of making an impactful and thought-provoking film about a problem as simple as a stolen bicycle. The impact of this movie has introduced me to my new favorite genre “neorealism.”
(I am recovering from the flu (which is maddening considering I held up my civil responsibility to the commonwealth by getting my flu shot) so bare with my delirium as I try to keep this review coherent.)
This film is run on a simple premise. Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) and his wife Maria (Lianella Carell) are dirt-poor with the added stress of a newborn daughter they must now provide for on top of their son. The film opens with Antonio being chosen for work out of a crowd of hundreds of men. The job has one condition; the worker must be able to provide his own bicycle. Antonio cannot afford to miss this call to action. Antonio and Maria manage to get him a bicycle after they sell their bedsheets. The main plot of the film begins when Antonio's back is turned and his bicycle is stolen.
Self-sacrificing moments such as when Antonio and Maria have to scrape together money for a bicycle is when "Bicycle Thieves," is it’s most relatable. We all want to believe that we’d be able to live for our family and care for them in the conditions that Antonio does however most of us are too privileged to actually know.
Civil vs moral responsibility. This is an idea that “Bicycle Thieves,” explores as Antonio along with his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) meander the city of Rome in search of the stolen. The scope of the city- the sense of community is established in scenes where Anotnio is helped by his friends to search in an overwhelming black market of mechanical parts. His friends ,who understand the importance of the bicycle to Antonio, do not request anything of him for their help but help him because they themselves can relate to living in the hard times of a recovering post-WWII Rome. Near the end of the film when the bicycle thief is confronted and is defended by his neighbors and family. This film makes it difficult for you to root for anyone. I hoped Antonio would find his bicycle, however, the city plagued by poverty and it's poverty-stricken characters made me desperate and clinging to the faith that all of these people who have their luck turn around. The film does not answer whether anyone is better off or worse but ends abruptly as Antonio walks off into a crowd. and ends perfectly. I was left wondering whether or not stealing Antonio’s bicycle could be justified morally even though it'd be wrong civilly.
Bruno (left) and Antonio (right) stowing away their omelets before they take on the day.
One of the film’s most memorable scenes came early in the film on Antonio’s first day of work. Antonio is up early, 6:30 a.m., with his son Bruno who is cleaning the bicycle. Maria makes the pair omelets to-go before they set out on Antonio’s “Fides.” This scene was particularly relatable because I assumed that Antonio was leaving Bruno at school considering the two left the house together very early on a weekday. I have fond memories of my own father driving me to school so I thought this was no different. You can imagine how unjustifiably shocked I felt when Bruno is dropped off at a gas station just in time for the beginning of his shift. This feeling of guilt and betrayal is ultimately what “Bicycle Thieves,” will leave you with as the end credits roll and “Finale,” fades onto the screen.
(AU STUDENTS ONLY) Watch 1969's Bicycle Thieves: