Bicycle Thieves ★★★★½

Film #31 of Project 40

”There's a cure for everything except death.”

The prominent example of Italian Neorealism and a proof that sometimes cinema – a form of artistic expression – can go beyond the boundaries of art and by showing the most bitter and most depressing aspects of life in a society full of anger and sorrow and empty of hope and joy find a way of bringing some kind of a long lasting salvation and moral relief to that society. Bicycle Thieves never judges anything or anyone, it never tells its audience who’s right and who’s wrong and it never gives you straight or obvious messages. Instead it shows its viewers what’s exactly happening in a society and what’s going on between various members of such ethically and financially wounded community and then asks them to just take a moment to reevaluate the way they are looking at people, laws and morale of that aforementioned society. Vittorio De Sica acts like a social reformist, he knows that his country is going through tough times and he wants to remind – and warn - everyone about the drastic changes that are ruining the fundamentals of his beloved country and its people’s way of life.

At the center of this groundbreaking piece of cinema lies the unsettling story of a man whose only wish in life is to provide for his small family and survive in the post-war Italian society where almost everyone has to live a life full of grief and hopelessness. The most prominent characteristic of the film is its realism which can be seen in almost every aspect of De Sica’s work. The unpolished dialogues, rough – yet incredibly controlled - performances and the way the film uses its various locations to re-create the feeling that we are in the middle of a real society and not a fake cinematic universe all highlight that sense of realism which plays a key role in our engagement in the story and our compassion for the characters.

Portraying the dark aspects of life in a society paralyzed by war and its consequences and how such society affects the life of its individuals and their various decisions is one of the important purposes of De Sica – and on a broader scale the whole Neorealism movement. He sympathizes with all of his characters, not just his protagonist. In other words his film features a protagonist who grabs our attention and we follow him as he is going from one street to the other looking for his lost bicycle but the important fact is that film doesn't feature an antagonist. De Sica doesn't blame anyone, he doesn't portray anyone as the sinister character who is making life hard for others. He shows us a society so corrupted that sometimes people – even those honorable and morally unspoiled ones like the main character – have no other choice than choosing the wrong path and deciding to do the unacceptable thing. What matters for him is the outcome of this lost society where people make wrong choices, lose their pride and confidence and this destructive cycle just goes on and on. Antonio’s son is only one of the kids who are witnessing this ongoing ethical collapse, kids who are going to build the future of the country.

De Sica’s film is full of strikingly powerful emotional moments which leave you speechless and in some case – like the film’s final 5 minutes – can make you feel devastated. This is basically the tragic tale of a father and his son and their battle for survival. Exceptionally well made and incredibly affecting.

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