Bicycle Thieves cycles through Italian neorealism, pedalling alongside some of the greatest masterpieces. Ladri Di Biciclette. Ranked as one of the most influential and inspirational films of all-time. At one point, was deemed the greatest film of all time. An extensive list of self-proclaimed accolades that has assured its position in cinematic history. The question inevitably was whether or not Bicycle Thieves was indeed that perfect post-war drama many claimed it to be. Aside from one glaring character action that didn't particularly sit well with me, I must confess that after some deliberation I came to the conclusion that this drama is technically flawless. Flabbergasting on occasion. The sheer complexity of its simple story is nothing short of genius from De Sica. A working class father searches the entirety of Rome in order to find his recently stolen bicycle, an essential equipment that was to be the salvation of his family.
Post-war and post-fascist, this minimalistic story arguably presents some of the best interpretations of humanistic values in both classic and modern cinema. There are so many themes tackled through De Sica's visualised direction, that the essence of realism surpasses that of neorealism. A story so relatable, dealing with poverty and a wealth class system, that it borders the boundaries of experimentalism.
A cast of non-actors running around the impoverished streets of urban Rome, where citizens recuperate from the burning chaos that ensued from the war. De Sica's wide angled shots that capture the fragility and hostility of Italy. Neighbourhoods imparting their falsified honesty with threatening behaviour. The criminal act of desperation when all seems lost. An honest soul filled with anguish. A delicate father and son relationship that relishes in humanism, embellishing moral values. Montuori's cinematography capitalising on the urban disarray. Cicognini's score beautifully exhuming Italian Renaissance. Da Roma's sharp editing eloquently transitioning each scene, stringing them along into the most humble of stories. Only for it to all end on a melancholic note.
De Sica commences the story with an assured layer of optimism, only for life to unfortunately unravel and crush that sense of hope. Despite Bartolini including various lines of comedic flair, the tale itself remains grounded. Maggiorani is a natural performer. His character's desperation is conveyed simply through his facial expressions and frantic body movement. Staiola, who plays his son, was exceptional. Possibly one of the best child performances I've seen. The constant staring towards his father shows the endearment and loyalty that presides in him. Exceptional.
My only criticism, and it comes down to a personal opinion, is when Antonio slaps his son and doesn't apologise for it. Sure, treating him to a fancy pizzeria may act as a symbolic apology, whilst also showcasing the wealth disparity even further. But it didn't sit well with me. Understandably, it conveyed his frustration and desperation for his lost bicycle, however his son really did not do anything to deserve that. It was at that precise moment I was more invested in the son than I was with him. The recovered film was also a tiny bit rough around the edges, yet never detracted from the experience.
My first endeavour into Italian neorealism was a success. No doubt. The environment and story that De Sica presented was scathingly realistic and relatable, all weighed down by superb natural performances. The themes and context are all hiding in the crevices of Rome, and Bicycle Thieves beautifully illustrates that. A simple tale that has the velocity of the Giro d'Italia. Stunning.