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14 Bicycle Thieves 1948 
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Post 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
From Zeppelin on the cinematic journey

Two nights ago I watched my first Italian Neorealist film, the most famous of the genre and No. 15 on the top 100, Bicycle Thieves. Going into Bicycle Thieves, I knew very little about the film or about neorealism. Essentially, all I knew was that Scorsese considered it the most influential of all film genres. After watching the movie, I can see why. There is nothing theatric at all about Bicycle Thieves. It has no illusions about its characters being in a movie, and things don't always work out for Antonio, our protagonist. However, one thing which I found most surprising (And judging from my reading, the most common charistic of the Neorealitic) was how every character seemed to be having the problems Antonio was having. Poverty affected everyone in the movie, just like how it does during real life. Even though there is a plot, it almost seems insignificant. Bicycle Thieves seems more like a collection of moments and meditations on poverty and fatherhood than a story about a man trying to find his lost bicycle, and some of these moments manage to be both touching and beautiful too.

However, I respected Bicycle Thieves more than I liked it. Although the kid who played Antonio's son Bruno did a great job with his role, Antonio falters. The fact that he had never acted before is sometimes painfully obvious, and it made me less sympathetic toward Antonio's predicament. Also, the "collection of moments" feel took its toll on me as well. While there were some shots of striking beauty, notably the man climbing up to place Antonio's sold sheets with the other people's sold sheets and Antonio and Bruno after they lose the old man, other times I was less affected. So, in the end, I ended up feeling at the end of Bicycle Thieves a lot like I did at the end of my first movie on the journey, Grand Illusion, in that I respected it more than I liked it. Although I must admit, I do feel a little more enlightened after my viewing. 8/10


Tue Jul 21, 2009 1:30 am
Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
From Bob Harris on the cinematic journey

The Bicycle Thief
This was a marvelously simplistic film. A man(Antonio), desperate for a job, gets his bike out of a pawn shop so that he can use it to hang posters around Rome(of the lovely Rita Hayworth no less). On his first day, his bike is stolen while he is up on a ladder hanging a poster. The film follows his quest to find his stolen bike(add the hijinks and bad humor and you would think I was talking about Pee Wee's Big Adventure). Antonio's son Bruno joins him on his mission and what follows is somehow engrossing despite the remarkably simple storyline. Lamberto Maggiorani is fantastic as his desperation and fear show all over his face as he knows that without his bicycle he will lose his chance at earning a livelihood for his family. Enzo Staiola is also impressive as his son, precocious and often a bit of a smartass. What was amazing to me was to learn after that both were amateurs. I thoroughly enjoyed this neorealistic film. What is a shame is that a film like this could not or would not be made today(and certainly not within the Hollywood system) as it is so simple in it's scope and story. It perfectly captured the situation in Italy at the time without any grand overtures but rather simply giving us the tale of one man and his fight to provide for his family and how desperate his situation was. I highly recommend this film. 9/10


Tue Jul 21, 2009 10:50 am
Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
Robert Holloway wrote:
From Bob Harris on the cinematic journey

The Bicycle Thief
This was a marvelously simplistic film. A man(Antonio), desperate for a job, gets his bike out of a pawn shop so that he can use it to hang posters around Rome(of the lovely Rita Hayworth no less). On his first day, his bike is stolen while he is up on a ladder hanging a poster. The film follows his quest to find his stolen bike(add the hijinks and bad humor and you would think I was talking about Pee Wee's Big Adventure). Antonio's son Bruno joins him on his mission and what follows is somehow engrossing despite the remarkably simple storyline. Lamberto Maggiorani is fantastic as his desperation and fear show all over his face as he knows that without his bicycle he will lose his chance at earning a livelihood for his family. Enzo Staiola is also impressive as his son, precocious and often a bit of a smartass. What was amazing to me was to learn after that both were amateurs. I thoroughly enjoyed this neorealistic film. What is a shame is that a film like this could not or would not be made today(and certainly not within the Hollywood system) as it is so simple in it's scope and story. It perfectly captured the situation in Italy at the time without any grand overtures but rather simply giving us the tale of one man and his fight to provide for his family and how desperate his situation was. I highly recommend this film. 9/10


For those of you who may get intimidated by this style film, by foreign films or just by a film from this time period, I suggest that you take a chance on this one. Since posting these words upon first viewing this film, I have recently gone back to view it again because it just stuck out so strongly in my mind. It really is such a basic simple premise for a film that really gets the viewer to care about what happens to this man. It's approach is minimalistic and yet so satisfying. The dialogue is kept simple and it is in the way Maggiorani physically shows his desperation that I became so engrossed in his plight. Like many films on this list, my first exposure to this came from Netflix but this one I purchased after viewing and could not be more satisfied that I did.


Tue Jul 21, 2009 9:00 pm
Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
A revisit recently once again brings this great film to my mind. On this third watching, I still was enthralled and wondering what he was going to do, fully realizing what was going to happen having seen the film in the past.

I echo the above sentiments,

A great film to get your feet wet on in regards to BW foreign classic top of the line pieces of art. Strongly recommend.


Sun Jul 26, 2009 12:17 pm
Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
A BUMP for Bicycle Thieves, the 14th on the Top 100. This is the next movie I'll be watching.

I first heard about this film in the 90s after seeing The Player (those of you who've seen that particular film might remember that Bicycle Thieves is central to the plot mechanism) but haven't had much interest in actually seeing it. Bob Harris eventually sold the film to me with his use of the word "simple". He further sold the film by implying that "simple" doesn't mean "easy"... I'm ready for it.

Anyone else planning on checking this one out for the first time? Am I the only person here who hasn't actually seen it?


Sun Aug 16, 2009 6:37 am
Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
As good a film as 'The Bicycle Thieves' is, I don't see how it has ascended so high on film lists. It's a very good film which heartbreakingly offers the audience a situation of great discomfort and provides no hope for retribution. The ending, however, is alot more optimistic than would be the norm today in a foreign film, which takes a good deal of the edge out of the film. I would call De Sica's own "Umberto D" a superior neo-realist film, one which truly symbolized everything that was great about the subgenre while mixing in deeper elements of tragedy and even existentialism to it's grit.


Wed Aug 19, 2009 7:52 am
Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
Like Zeppelin, Bicycle Thieves is the first Italian neorealist film I've seen. If the rest of the movement is anything like this then I'm up for more.

The fact that the actors are amateurs surprised me since I saw no fault in any of the performances. For instance, I loved the relationship between the father and son which is so good partially because of the chemistry between the actors.

The ending is something that I don't necessarily see as all that optimistic. Things could undoubtedly have become worse, but as it stands, life is already terrible. 9/10.


Tue Oct 13, 2009 10:34 pm
Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
The beauty of Bicycle Thieves is how the complexity and depth of the film arise from such a simple story. Antonio needs his bicycle in order to do his job. It gets stolen and he has to find it so he can keep his job. For a plot summary that's about all there is. However, director Vittorio De Sica tells the story in such a way that it becomes a meditation on themes as diverse as institutional dysfunction (police, church) and humanity. The movie doubles as an exploration of Post WWII Italy and a character study about one man's struggle to endure in that world.

Everything I've read and heard about the movie seems to laud it for being almost anti-theatrical. I can understand that sentiment, but I'm not in complete agreeance. I think those who say that are confusing slice-of-life story and objectivity with filmmaking realism. It's a realistic story told cinematically.

Di Sica uses a wide array of cinematic techniques to tell the story and to give it the heft it undeniably achieves. A symbolic motif of "one going into many" is used a few different ways to indicate that Antonio's plight is representative of the culture in Italy at the time. You have the group of towels being stacked to the ceiling with the Ricci's recently sold towels being shown going into the huge pile. There's also a few shots (not just the phenomenal final shot) of Antonio and Bruno falling in line with the masses of walking people. Finally, there's multiple shots of one bike and large groups of bikes. He also uses pans with the camera with background dialogue commenting on what is happening on-screen (notably in the church). The film isn't flashy, or showy, or stylish by any means, but to say it is not cinematic, I believe, is incorrect.

As for the story itself, I started out identifying with Antonio's situation. How could you not? In a terrific opening 15-20 minutes Di Sica crafts a character who is doing exactly what he has to in order to get by and provide for his family. It's easy to see the honor in how he chooses to live life in such dire circumstances. He hasn't done what so many lesser men have done - turn to crime or give up. His wife seems supportive, and his son obviously looks up to him. I found myself wanting him to succeed and I imagine most who see the film feel the same way.

However, as Antonio grows more desparate, his humanity seems to start slipping away. His pestering of the old man in church was too much for me. It just felt ugly. By the time he attempts to steal a bike at the end of the film, he's a completely changed man. He's resorted to the way of life that he had previously been able to avoid. It's tragic. The final scene of the film shows this as Antonio and Bruno assimilate into the crowd. However, Di Sica's stroke of brilliance is showing the two teary eyed and holding hands. They're going off, disillusioned and beaten by the world they inhabit, having turned to crime to try to get by, but maintaining some amount of humanity in the process.

That final scene is why the movie achieves greatness. By staying objective throughout, Di Sica crafts a film that shows Antonio as honorable, disgusting, and logical. He's ends up doing awful things because they've been done to him. He goes the proper route and is let down by how the world works. What other options does he have? Yet, he's undoubtedly a thief. You don't want him to steal the bike at the end, but you know he has to. Di Sica doesn't judge Antonio or the world until that final shot. Then, BAM! Hand holding and teary sobs, and you cannot help but to be affected, relative goodness of Antonio's actions be damned. It's just about the definition of heartbreaking.


Mon Jul 26, 2010 12:25 pm
Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
Wish I could do more than offer what I've already offered but Bicycle Thieves is a fine movie that creates a really beautiful relationship between father and son. The scene in the restaurant, in particular, is one of those simple glorious moments that effectively establish a scene as representative of a film -- quiet, patient, all the rest. The only problem (and maybe this is because I rewatched Solaris last night) is that the movie is a bit too short for me. That I would prefer the movie to be longer, and certain scenes/shots to go on for two or three times as long as they do, is likely an indicator of the movie's success.

I've said it before but I don't tire writing it: kids as kids. Bicycle Thieves deserves praise for not being the first of anything (is it?) but being honest about relationships. Take away the politics, the place the film has in history and you still have a great universal character piece. It's been a year since I checked it out and should pen in a rewatch.


Mon Jul 26, 2010 5:59 pm
Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
majoraphasia wrote:
Wish I could do more than offer what I've already offered but Bicycle Thieves is a fine movie that creates a really beautiful relationship between father and son. The scene in the restaurant, in particular, is one of those simple glorious moments that effectively establish a scene as representative of a film -- quiet, patient, all the rest. The only problem (and maybe this is because I rewatched Solaris last night) is that the movie is a bit too short for me. That I would prefer the movie to be longer, and certain scenes/shots to go on for two or three times as long as they do, is likely an indicator of the movie's success.

I've said it before but I don't tire writing it: kids as kids. Bicycle Thieves deserves praise for not being the first of anything (is it?) but being honest about relationships. Take away the politics, the place the film has in history and you still have a great universal character piece. It's been a year since I checked it out and should pen in a rewatch.


The father-son relationship is really well done. It isn't just "you're a good father, you're a good son". It's a three dimensional relationship where Antonio's obsession with the bicycle leads to him neglecting his son a bit. A pedophile attempts to seduce Bruno in the market while Antonio looks for the bike. Bruno falls into a muddy river unbeknownst to Antonio, who is again, looking for the bike. It's like he's forgetting what is important to him as he becomes less and less human. He's becoming dirtier. There's numerous instances of Bruno literally and figuratively trying to remain "clean". The fact the Bruno is still there at the end after Antonio's humiliating attempt to steal a bike, and his initiation of holding his father's hand shows a great deal of growth for the young child. He hasn't necessarily grown stronger than his father, but he's grown enough to know that his father needs him at that moment.

I know I said it in my last post, but I think it bears repeating - this is not a film devoid of style. The neo-realist label surely applies, but a lot of people (not anyone here) seem to equate that with extreme realism. It isn't. Di Sica infuses quite a few stylistic touches of his own to add to the story. The clean/dirty metaphor between the father and son being one of them.


Wed Jul 28, 2010 1:30 pm
Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
“Bicycle Thieves” (1949)*

In post WWII Italy, a desperate man seeks employment and is offered a job requiring he own a bicycle for work transportation. His bicycle has been hocked, so his resourceful wife pawns their bed-sheets to get the needed money and reclaim the bike. As the title implies, the bike is stolen. This loss is beyond the material. The stolen bike represents his means of supporting and transporting himself and his family. When it becomes clear the police will do nothing, the man and his son begin a search for the bike -or it’s pieces. Symbolism is everywhere, but not bludgeoning.

Awf Hand gives 4 out of 4 stars and will add this movie to his Christmas list. To see it once only makes one want to see it again. A book was included with the DVD and made heavy use of the term “neorealism”. The norm for a film of this period was to create a world of beauty into which viewers could escape. There’s no escape here. Even after the movie, the images haunt and intrigue. The world we’ve visited impresses upon us the desperation of a man’s search for his dignity.

*Time Magazine top 100 films of all time and Yahoo’s 100 movies to see before you die.


Mon Oct 25, 2010 4:09 pm
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Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
Finally I have seen and appreciated this classic. I won't try to add to the fine summaries provided above. The story builds to the finish and released a whole range of emotions for me. At the end I was feeling disappointment (almost disgust), followed by slight relief, followed by sympathy, followed by pity, followed by uncertainty. I felt enough for Antonio that I wished I hadn't seen all that happened - something I've felt about real people, but never really for a movie character before.


Thu Nov 07, 2013 4:43 pm
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Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
TBH, I'm not really a big fan of this film. I found it too rough around the edges and the father was more irritating than sympathetic.
De Sica's later neo-realist efforts, especially "Umberto D." and "Il Tetto", were much better movies.
Why they aren't more appreciated by the critics, who instead choose to praise this still rudimentary effort of a new movement, is a fact that baffles me.

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Fri Mar 07, 2014 6:33 am
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Post Re: 14 Bicycle Thieves 1948
Panos75 wrote:
TBH, I'm not really a big fan of this film. I found it too rough around the edges and the father was more irritating than sympathetic.
De Sica's later neo-realist efforts, especially "Umberto D." and "Il Tetto", were much better movies.
Why they aren't more appreciated by the critics, who instead choose to praise this still rudimentary effort of a new movement, is a fact that baffles me.


Umberto D. is very high-profile, greatly esteemed by the critics. It happens that more people, as these things go, have had more exposure to Bicycle Thieves through pop culture to even the most cursory film histories. Not that any of these movies are being lampooned on Family Guy.

I like Umberto D. and Bicycle Thieves about equally, maybe a slight edge to the latter due to the more familar father/son relationship at the core. The first one, wherein a man's life is saved by his dog, is familiar in a less heartwarming way: so many of the downers that were made in the 90s had the same feel and checkpoints. American neo-realism apparently didn't exist before 1995.

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Fri Mar 07, 2014 5:42 pm
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