Edgar Cochran’s review published on Letterboxd:
While the worldwide general situation was in an extremely tragic state, the economy was alarmingly delicate, several millions of people had died in one of the greatest and most catastrophic wars human ever made, and major cities were in a reconstruction period, a new form of filmmaking was being born in Italy, adopting totally new perspectives. A movement called Neorealism was created, which was mainly characterized by its portrayal of common citizenship living in extreme poverty conditions surrounded by delinquency, violence and considerately high economical needs. Inexperienced actors were used for trying to depict a story in the most realistic way possible and it exposed existentialist ideas, like the fact that society led a tragically boring life everyday, causing it to resort to its own imagination and fantasies for making of life something more meaningful. Vittorio De Sica was precisely one of the most important directors of the genre back in the 40's. Ladri di Biciclette is not only considered among the best movies of cinema history, but it can also be found among the best neorealist feature films ever created, without mentioning the fact that it was the best and most representative director's masterwork. It could even be said that it was his most personal project.
Ladri di Biciclette is set on the city of post-war Rome and tells the story of a father who possesses a very humble job which consists in pasting posters of Rita Hayworth all over the streets of the city and requires a bicycle so it can be done. One day, his bicycle (as implied by the title) is unfortunately stolen, making him fall into despair, so he sets out on an endless search for his bicycle along with his son. However, he just can't seem to find it and the whole situation is starting to get worse and worse for his whole family. Will he become himself into a bicycle thief, or will he take another drastic decision? The movie was nominated for an Academy Award in 1950 for Best Writing, Screenplay and received the Honorary Award for being the Best Foreign Language Film released in the United States, since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences were still giving Honorary Awards for 1950, and the category for Best Foreign Language Film wouldn't be formally created until 1956.
Ladri di Biciclette is one of the most honest and sincere films I've ever had the honor to see. The chemistry between the father and his son is extremely powerful, and is one of the protagonistic pairs that I remember the most in cinema history, probably being my personal favorite. The filmmaking style is utterly beautiful, since the Italian neorealist classic cinema possesses a humble magic in the camera that just can't be adequately described with simple words. The editing is sufficiently effective for making us create empathy towards the characters and the difficult situation they are in. One as a viewer of the film simply wishes for everything to end well.
The script is decently written, and something that I have to recognize is that the Italian cinema had numerous extremely talented screenwriters during those decades. The performances by both Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola are extraordinary, and Enzo Staiola certainly deserves an honorific mention, since I have always admired the work put by infantile and juvenile casts in masterpieces such as Los Olvidados (1950), by Luis Buñuel, Miracolo a Milano (1951), by Vittorio De Sica, and Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959), by François Truffaut. The music may not be a remarkable aspect, but it is definitely classic and very characteristic and suitable for the film. It just takes to listen to its first notes so we can have our heart broken once more without even seeing the film again.
The movie couldn't have worked in the same way it originally did without Vittorio De Sica's direction, who is a director that I highly admire because of his filmography and work throughout. Being I Bambini ci Guardano (1944) his first well-known film he ever directed, Ladri di Biciclette is perhaps his most famous and seen film, and arguably his best, with Umberto D. (1952) as strong competition, which also is an incomparably beautiful piece of art.
Although the sad and tragic thematic elements that the film (and the genre itself) has, it is one of the most beautiful movies I have seen in my life so far, artistically speaking. The power that it causes in the spectator's heart goes beyond words, and just like Neorealism focuses on the simplest and most beautiful aspects of life, that's how we should act in our daily life. We as materialistic and avaricious people tend to not value the possessions that belong to us, and once that we lose them we don't do anything more productive than complaining and to regret our loss. Nothing lasts forever, and it is our own preparation towards the obstacles of life the one that improves us as imperfect human beings depending on the maturity, rectitude and strength we are willing to use so we can fight them. This is an attitude that Antonio Ricci and Bruno Ricci end up assuming and learning in a very direct, strong and humiliating way towards the ending. That is why the ending of the film, which I won't dare to mention, is completely devastating and also partially unpredictable. Although we clearly know how the film will end since the half of the film (perhaps even since before), we don't really know the way the ending will be handled, nor which the last shot (which, by the way, is beautifully captured) will precede the "The End" title.
Ladri di Biciclette is art. There's no doubt about it. Because of all of the reasons mentioned above, I consider Ladri di Biciclette as a magnificent cinematographic treasure of humanity which originality, inspiration, influence, editing, directing and artistic beauty will never be equaled. Few times have I seen so much perfection and beauty falling in love within cinema, since it is very difficult nowadays to find such a beautiful piece of art nowadays that has both characteristics at the same time. Vittorio De Sica managed to create one of the most important films in the history of humanity, and the best part is that it is still considered as such nowadays. The reconstruction process that the post-war period was going through is exactly the same process the protagonists should start at a personal level. There is always a new beginning for everything, and independently of the difficult events we may have to go through, the eyes with which we decide to see every single detail of our lives is what makes of our existence something relevant. It has been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul and I completely agree with that statement. Ladri di Biciclette is one of the very few films that have changed my perspective towards life, just like Los Olvidados (1950) did, talking about films of the same genre. A beautiful, legendary treasure.