Bicycle Thieves

Bicycle Thieves ★★★★

This was really the perfect way to spend a Sunday lunchtime; with a respectable crowd at my local cinema for a matinee showing of The Bicycle Thieves. Like so many other classics, it was one that I had somehow never seen before.

The plot is very simple - an Italian Everyman, Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) is struggling to make ends meet in the depressed Rome of the immediate post-war. He is offered a job as a bill poster that requires him to have his own bike. He has one but it's been pawned for food previously. His devoted wife Maria pawns the sheets that were part of her dowry and they reclaim the precious bike. On his first day the bike is stolen and thus begins a desperate attempt to find it, with his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola).

At first I found it a little stiff, but gradually I found myself getting increasingly drawn into the depiction of every day people and their struggles to survive that director/ co-writer Vittorio De Sica has created. It feels very authentic, from the crowded location shots to the use of non-actors. That's not to say its a simple piece of work. Technically it's very assured and De Sica handles densely populated scenes with lots of extras with great assurance (and there's a lot of traffic on those roads as well, giving a sense of real chaos and tragedy just a hair's-breadth away), and there are multiple cameras used at any one time.

It is a tragedy, but it's a small-scale one. We know right from the beginning that it's highly unlikely his bike will be found, but he is searching for his dignity above all else. The man simply wants to fend for the little family he has. That it all he has in the world, and one simple malicious act has taken it away.

It's not difficult to watch this film and see modern parallels in the social and economic hardships depicted onscreen. We're all trying to survive like Antonio and why his plight is so recognisable and poignant. How far would we go? Would we throw out morals out of the window in desperation? How soon until we have to start thinking about those decisions?

It must be said that Lamberto Maggiorini is brilliant. For non-actors, the performances of his, and Enzo Staiola as Bruno are astonishing. They embody the characters and they feel real, and you ache for them to succeed. Staiola frequently steals every scene he's in with natural bolshy charisma and assured comic timing. But then events intervene once more and you are harshly reminded that he's only a little boy. It's heartbreaking.

This is a wonderful little film that gives the impression of being a bigger one, thanks to the universality of its themes. It has a quietly Odyssean quest-like ambiance to its all, helped by the ancient setting of the Eternal City.

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