Bicycle Thieves ★★★

***Continuing My Education: Lesson #49***

I'm not sure if it was the gap in time and place between post-war Italy and when and where I live, or if it was just my poor state of mind, but I didn't find Bicycle Thieves to be even close as a contender for the greatest film ever made. While elements of the story, which follows a struggling father in post-war Rome as he searches for his stolen bike to keep his new, much needed job, are still sadly relevant, I found there to just be a complete emotional disconnect between me and this film.

The film deals heavily with the time tested themes of poverty and desperation, and as a struggling head of household I found much that I should have been able to relate to in lead character Antonio. He tries to maintain an upbeat attitude, but faces the need to provide for his wife and children. However, Antonio isn't a very likable guy. He comes across as flippant and pathetic, unable to do anything by himself. He insults and mocks his wife and he neglects, ignores and even abuses his young son. While Lamberto Maggiorani gives a good performance as Antonio, I just found him a miserable character to try and root for.

The rest of the characters don't fare much better. While he doesn't deserve his poor treatment, Antonio's son Bruno is annoying in that way unique to, and all too common among, child actors. The rest of the cast, from Lianella Carell as Antonio's wife Maria, to all of the supporting roles and back ground characters are just way over-the-top, yelling and hand-gesturing in lieu of actually acting. The score adds to this sense of chaos, often striking just the wrong tone to match the onscreen action by backing this depressing story with jolly, upbeat tunes.

While I didn't love Bicycle Thieves by any stretch of the imagination, I do respect that its story contains many important themes and messages about economic hardships and class issues. I can also say that director Vittorio De Sica shoots and paces the film very well, conveying the decaying shell of Rome wonderfully. While the grating nature of the dialogue and score certainly didn't help things, I know that my inability to connect with the lead character is what really hurt my enjoyment of this film. I live in a different time after all, if someone stole my car I'd be furious, but I'd just call the police, put in a claim, bum a ride to work, and figure the rest out from there, hell, I've lived without easy transportation multiple times in my life already. It might not be fair to view an older film through the lens of the present, but sometimes you just can't help doing so.

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