A review of Vittorio De Sica's "BICYCLE THIEVES" (1948)
One of the founding films of the Neorealist movement in cinema during the post-World War era, this film's importance can never be understated. Least of all, serving as an inspiration to one of my own favourite filmmakers, Satyajit Ray. Ray cast his debut 'Pather Panchali' with a bunch of amateurs and shot right in the streets of villages, when the dependence of studios on sets was high. But de Sica did it first. He said that every individual can play one character better than anyone else: themselves. And so he chose his cast, a movie full of ordinary individuals instead of the glamour and gloss of the 40s film industry. There are pages to be said about neorealism and it's still ongoing domino-effect on modern cinema, but that will have to do for later posts. For now much of modern filmmaking, I believe, is founded on three crucial films - Bicycle thrives, Seven Samurai and Citizen Kane. The film itself is a simple and beautiful story of a man who loves his family and wants to provide for them. But the society makes it hard. Who doesn't relate to that? It's post-war, and jobs are scarce. Ricci gets one and needs a bicycle for it. He had but pawned his. His wife strips their bedsheets and he is able to get his bicycle back in exchange for them. Along the way, de Sica teases us as at one point he leaves the bike against a wall, unguarded, and goes inside a house. The bike does get stolen of course. But in a later scene. The film follows Ricci and his lively little kid through the gritty streets of Rome as he tries to find the bicycle thief. And it is an absolute tear-jerker in the end when the kid witnesses his desperate father attempt to steal a bicycle himself and gets caught by the mob. And thus continues the cycle of theft and poverty.
The story is direct, and plays almost like a fable. The acting is real and personal, the story simple and - by the end - cathartic. It's no surprise then that it has been and continues to be a growing inspiration for so many casual and serious fans of film and filmmaking. This is a royalty of classic cinema, it's humble beginnings notwithstanding.