1948’s Bicycle Thieves is an interesting film to watch after the intellectual exercise that is Citizen Kane. A key film of Italian Neorealism, Bicycle Thieves is almost the inverse of Kane in that it is a very emotional film but has little going for it on a technical level. I had seen Thieves several years ago when it first came out from the Criterion Collection in 2007. I remembered loving it and wondered if it would hold up to my memory.
The film tells the story of an unemployed family man, Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani), who has an opportunity to get a job putting up posters. The catch is that he must have a bicycle to do so. His wife Maria (Lianella Carell) brings all their sheets to a pawn shop to get her husband’s bike out of hock. Shortly after Antonio begins his job, his bike is stolen and he and his seven-year-old son, Bruno (Enzo Staiola) set off on a quest to find the stolen bike. Bicycle Thieves is equal part social commentary and family drama. The simplicity of the plot masks a surprisingly complex film. A second viewing was an enriching experience.
Director Vittorio De Sica portrays a gritty post-war Italy where people struggle to get by. It doesn’t shy away from harsh realities. One could accuse the film of being heavy-handed, but the non-professional actors keep the film from slipping into melodrama. Although De Sica eschews any bold Hollywood-esque conventions, the film is not without visually stunning sequences.
I really love this film and see it remaining high on my list. My initial inclination was to put this around 2 or 3, but the top of the list is getting mighty crowded already. It’s as emotionally moving as Sunrise or City Lights but doesn’t do as much with the cinematic aspects as those did for their times, so I’ll place it after City Lights.
My ratings so far:
- Metropolis (1927)
- Citizen Kane (1941)
- The Rules of the Game (1939)
- Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
- City Lights (1931)
- Bicycle Thieves (1948)
- The General (1926)
- The Man with the Movie Camera (1929)
- L’Atalante (1934)
- Battleship Potemkin (1925)
- The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Next Up: Late Spring