Bicycle Thieves ★★★★

A genuinely moving cinematic portrait of working class life in post-war Italy, brought to life by excellent performances and innovative filmmaking techniques. Bicycle Thieves lives up to its reputation as a masterpiece of Italian neorealism.

This is the first film from the neorealist movement that I've seen, and more than anything I was struck by the compassion and heart with which the story is told. The straightforward plot concerns a poor father whose chances for employment are jeopardised when his sole means of transport - a bicycle - is stolen on his first day at work. We follow Antonio (wonderfully portrayed by Lamberto Maggiorani) and his young son, Bruno (the even more brilliant Enzo Staiola), around the impoverished streets of Rome as they search desperately for their one hope of making a living in an increasingly harsh world.

This kind of bleak, understated, true-to-life cinema isn't necessarily my bag, and admittedly I was unsure if I'd come away from Bicycle Thieves too impressed throughout the first half of the film. As the narrative progresses, though, and we come to see the true depth of (and nuance to) the bond between Antonio and Bruno, it's impossible not to become emotionally invested in the outcome. When the ending plays out like it does, the core message hits home like a ton of bricks: a message of empathy and solidarity with the plight of those living on the breadline in a country recovering from its role in World War 2. It's made clear to the audience that the intimately personal (and at times, lonely) story we've just witnessed is instead the shared experience of a collective, united through their struggle.

My admiration and appreciation for Bicycle Thieves definitely snuck up on me over the course of the runtime, and in the end it really isn't difficult to see why it's so influential and critically lauded. Another one to tick off the bucket list.

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