Tuesday, December 4, 2012

#841. Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Directed By: Vittorio De Sica

Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell

Trivia: Sergio Leone worked as an assistant for Vittorio De Sica during the filming of this movie

A good movie will toy with your emotions, causing you to feel joy, sorrow, and everything in between. Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves does this, and then goes a step further by immersing its audience in an impoverished society, forcing them to experience the devastation that goes hand-in-hand with hardship.

After being unemployed for several years, Antonio is hired to work as a bill-poster, hanging advertisements throughout the city, a position that pays enough to support his small family: wife Maria (Lianella Carell), son Bruno (Enzo Stailoa), and a new baby. The job's only stipulation is that Antonio must have his own bicycle to get around on (which he does). But then, the unthinkable happens. On Antonio’s first day out, a young thief (Vittorio Antonucci) steals his bike! Afraid of losing the only job he’s been able to land in years, Antonio and Bruno scour the streets, hoping to locate the bicycle before it's time to report to work the next morning.

Bicycle Thieves was a product of the Italian Neorealist movement, a post-WWII approach to filmmaking that featured amateur performers, actual settings, and a strong focus on the struggles of the working class. Neither Maggiorani nor young Staiola were professionals; Bicycle Thieves was the first movie either appeared in, and yet it’s impossible to imagine any two actors doing a better job than they did. As Antonio, Maggiorani successfully conveys the anguish of a man who wants nothing more than to provide for his family, yet is left powerless when the means by which he can do so is cruelly snatched away from him. Stailoa’s Bruno loves and respects his father, remaining by his side as he attempts to track down his stolen bicycle, and mourning a little when Antonio allows misery to cloud his judgment.

Only one other film ever made me feel the bitter sting of poverty as effectively as Bicycle Thieves did, and that was John Schlesinger’s 1969 award-winning classic, Midnight Cowboy. By the conclusion of each, I had a better understanding of what it meant to be poor. Neither movie is easy to sit through; they are depressing motion pictures. Yet, in the end, both offered an experience I wouldn’t have traded for the world.

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