The Bicycle Thieves (1948) Film Review
The Bicycle Thieves is an Italian Neorealist classic by renowned film director Vittorio De Sica. A beautifully crafted film told in a microcosm of a struggling man Antonio Ricci looking for a job post-WW II in Italy.
The bicycle, like a metaphor, is showcased as a common man’s right to live with dignity by earning an honest living. This heart rendering film shows Antonio’s wife Maria pawning even the linen of her home to rid them of basic comforts to help her husband buy a bicycle which is mandatory for his new job. Next is a misadventure and how Antonio and his son Bruno are on a hunt to find their stolen bicycle.
Black and white films have always been one of my favourites. Perhaps when we see the world in monochrome, the emotions and situations stand out the most, and The Bicycle Thieves is a masterpiece capturing the essence of the human spirit. When I started watching the film, I realised how relevant this classic is even today. A film so poignantly told of a struggling common man, a husband and a father, who wants to provide for his family.
Using non-professional actors for this film was strategically one of the most compelling storytelling methods. This documentary style of filmmaking, with low key lighting, being shot on location, with genuine on-location background noise, connected me to the characters at its deepest level and will remain with me for years to come.
After his bicycle gets stolen, when we see Antonio and his son Bruno looking at a sea of bicycles in every nook of the city, hoping to get lucky, it made me impatient. It was almost like, “Why can’t he go and just buy another one, for heaven’s sake!” That’s when I realised my consumerist mindset, not considering that sometimes, people genuinely do not have the power (of money) to make a choice.
In this world of all the ‘isms’ like feminism where primarily the struggles of a woman as a mother or wife are highlighted, the portrayal of Antonio as a father is so humbling that it makes us realise that real-life struggles transcend across genders. Even a father goes through mental turmoil when he is not able to put bread on the table.
I could feel Antonio’s helplessness when he was searching for his stolen bicycle. While Bruno, who, with all honest and eager anticipation, keeps following his father’s expression through his cute button eyes, made my heartbreak. Antonio’s struggles, worries, and helplessness are genuine, even when he loses calm and regretfully slaps Bruno. Even his little flickers of optimism were genuine.
I almost got up from my chair to help little Bruno, who dodged cars while crossing the road and when he slipped and fell on the footpath while running to take shelter in the rain. When those priests took shelter standing next to them – there were two striking elements. One, even the servants of God need shelter from the rain and two, it made me hope for a miracle – which it did but uneventfully – the rain stopped, and Antonio spotted his stolen bicycle.
The class divide of the bourgeoisie and proletariat was stark when Antonio and Bruno entered the restaurant for a fine meal after an unsuccessful search attempt. Nothing seemed to dampen Bruno’s optimistic twinkling in his eyes while eating stringy cheese bread while the boy from a high-class family was giving him a hard cold stare, almost showing off his feast on his table.
Though childlike and subtle, this scene does pierce even the most unempathetic hearts. Seeing Antonio enjoying a little slice of life with wine, music, and food is so endearing that I felt it was necessary to soothe his aching heart and soul, including mine.
After an unsuccessful attempt at catching the thief and then momentarily transforming into one, to steal a bicycle, it is hard to imagine his plight for many fortunate like us. However, the sheer empathy that Antonio creates in the viewers’ minds is enough to shake our souls and wake us up to the harsh realities of life. When dejected, Antonio joins the sea of struggling humans shows us that he’s just an archetype of many like him and that these struggles are real.
When we see a realistic film narrated in pure raw honesty, it is akin to a surgeon’s knife cutting through the flesh and bone – which we know will have discomfort once the anaesthesia wears off. However, it strangely has a healing moment of revelation. The Bicycle Thieves is a must-watch for every generation to make us more aware of our realities and be grateful for a world with opportunities where we have the power of choice.
Watch it today on YouTube: Bicycle Thieves – Masterpiece by Vittorio De Sica – Full Movie (Ita Subs Eng) by Film&Clips
Contributor: Tanya Munshi
Writing Mentor & Founder of The Lifestyle Portal.