Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bicycle Thieves


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/5/10.


Following the fallout of World War II, Italy was in a dire, economic condition as the poor and working class struggled to find work. For a new group of filmmakers, a new wave of Italian cinema would emerge known as neorealism. One of its leading figures of this new wave was Vittorio De Sica, who was an actor that was prominent in the 1920s and 1930s. In the early 1940s, De Sica went into the world of directing as by 1946, he made a film called Sciuscia (Shoeshine) that was one of the first of the new wave of Italian neorealism. In 1948, De Sica made a film that would not only broke the new movement internationally but also raise the attention for Italian cinema itself in a harrowing tale about a poor man searching the city of Rome for a lost bicycle. The film is known in various names like Ladri di biciclette in its Italian name which in English, it's known as Bicycle Thieves but is known mostly as The Bicycle Thief.

Directed by Vittorio De Sica, Ladri di biciclette tells the story of a poor man finding a job where he has to ride a bicycle. When his bicycle is stolen, he and his son search all over the city of Rome to find the bicycle as they endure the struggles of the poor, working class. Based on a novel by Luigi Bartolini with an adapted screenplay by Cesare Zavattini with contributions by De Sica, Aldofo Franci, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Gerardo Guerrieri, and Oreste Biancoli. The film is considered one of the greatest stories about harsh conditions in post-war Italy. Starring Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell, and Vittorio Antonucci. Ladri di biciclette is a harrowing yet heartbreaking film by Vittorio De Sica.

Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) is finally given a job to hang posters all across the city. While the good news is that Ricci has work to help raise money for his starving family. The bad news is that the job requirement means he has to have a bicycle and the he has is broken. His wife Maria (Lianella Carell) decides to pawn their bed sheets in order to pay for a new bicycle as the job pays a good enough amount of money to pay for himself, Maria, and their two children. For Maria, the good news is a sign from a spiritual fortune teller (Elena Altieri) whom she feels she owe thanks to though Antonio doesn't believe in the woman's tales. After getting a uniform and instructions on what to do, Antonio is ready to work as it seems like good things are coming.

Then just as he was putting up a poster on the wall, his bike is suddenly stolen in the middle of Rome as he comes home defeated and unable to find his bicycle. Turning to a friend named Baiocco (Gino Saltamerenda) who decides to help Antonio find the bike since the police won't help him. Along with Antonio's young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola), they go to a place where bike parts are sold as there was no success. After a rough and rainy day with no success, Antonio and Bruno continued their search the next day where they find the thief meeting an old man (Giulio Chiari) as they tried to go after the thief. Later, they go after the old man where they follow him to a church service as he gives them false leads that Antonio doesn't believe.

With Antonio frustrated and unknowingly taking it out on Bruno, Antonio tries to regain Bruno's forgiveness by taking him out on a restaurant so they can eat and have some joy left. Realizing how important the bicycle is, Bruno's suggestions lead to Antonio to turn to the spiritual fortune teller for help. Instead, the teller's words didn't help matters until Antonio finally caught a face of the thief (Vittorio Antonucci) as he follows him to his town. Antonio confronts the young thief into telling the truth where the thief is surrounded by neighbors and a mother as a policeman tries to resolve the matter. What would happen would test Antonio's desire for survival as well as the respect of his son.

The film is about a man desperate to find his bicycle so he can keep his job and make sure his family suffers. Yet, the film is much more than that in terms of its simple plot device. It's really about a man being tested into what he's going through as he struggles to find the bicycle with the help of his young boy. For the boy, it is a grim reality of what his father is trying to do and why. Part of the film's story is about a father-son relationship in their search as the boy tries to help his father. Yet, he becomes troubled by his father's sudden helplessness in this desperation to find and confront the thief. Even as he knows his father is telling the truth where he can't help to watch his father suffer.

The story of the film is definitely a journey that revels into what Italians are going through in the post-war world where Italians are struggling to find work. Capturing all of this is Vittorio De Sica and his engaging yet observant direction. From the long shots of locales and sections that are going on in the city to the intimate moments between father and son. De Sica's camera is always capturing what is happening along with the people that Antonio and Bruno encounters. Even as the camera is following them, De Sica also gets into the middle of chaos along with the different class worlds that Antonio and Bruno deal with at a restaurant where a rich family is eating fine food while they're eating bread with melted mozzarella cheese.

Even the film's climatic moment in the third and final act shows an intense dramatic moment of how desperate Antonio is into maintaining the survival of his family. What would happen lead to what would be one of the most heartbreaking and devastating moments ever capture on film. De Sica doesn't gloss things over as he reveals all that is happening with such harrowing realism. The result is truly a masterwork of cinema as Vittorio De Sica captures a moment in time that is still relevant more than sixty years when it was released.

Cinematographer Carlo Montuori does brilliant work with the film's black-and-white photography to contrast the different worlds of Rome. From the brighter, larger look of the city in its rich locations to the grayer look of the more devastated places in the rain and at the shops outside of the buildings. Even the shading the sunlight add an atmosphere to the film as Montuori's work is definitely superb. Editor Eraldo De Rama does a splendid job with the film's straightforward editing along with the use of fade-outs and transition wipes to move the film quite smoothly from sequence to sequence. Even in some amazing rhythmic cuts to unveil some of the dramatic tension that is unfolding throughout the film.

Production designer Antonio Traverso does excellent work in the recreation of shops and booths that the characters surround by along with the places that Antonio and Bruno encounters that would reveal the wonders of the world. Music composer Alessandro Cicognini creates a haunting yet melancholic score filled with orchestral flourishes and arrangements to convey the devastation and desperation of what the characters are going through as it truly a magnificent score.

The cast which is mostly filled with unknown actors which is truly effective for the case of realistic performances. Notable small yet memorable supporting roles such as Elena Altieri as a mystical fortune teller who tests Antonio's faith, Giulio Chiari as an old man who has an encounter with the thief, and Gino Saltamerenda as Baiocco, Antonio's friend who helps him find the bike through merchants. Lianella Carell is excellent as Antonio's wife Maria who helps Antonio fund his way into getting a bike in her hopes for a better life. Vittorio Antonucci is very good as the young thief who claims to not have stolen the bike as he reveals some of the ugliness of humanity in such desperate times.

Enzo Staiola is superb as Bruno, a young boy whose life changes drastically as he sees his father struggle while realizing the harsh realism that is the real world. Finally, there's Lamberto Maggiorani in a magnificent role as Antonio Ricci. A man being put to the test as he loses his bicycle and means to survive while going through one humiliating ordeal after another. It is truly a haunting yet despairing performance from a man capturing what a man has to do for survival and how he's pushed to the edge of desperation.

When it was released in 1948, the film drew massive international attention. The film was released in the U.S. a year later to massive acclaim where it won a honorary Oscar just before the creation of the Best Foreign-Language film category. In the years since as De Sica's career grow as well as the brief period of Italian neorealism. The film would become massively acclaimed as one of the finest films ever made as polls would often have the film in the top ten as it is beloved by critics and filmmakers. The film was also a source of inspiration for Tim Burton's 1985 feature-film debut Pee Wee's Big Adventure along with being a plot device in Robert Altman's 1992 comeback film The Player.

Ladri di biciclette is a haunting yet heartbreaking film from Vittorio De Sica. Anyone interested in what neo-realist cinema is should no doubt see this as the best place to start. Even as a new wave of American films are going into the world of neo-realism from directors like Ramin Bahrani and Kelly Reichardt. The film is also more resonant with today's troubled economy as it is a harsh reflection of man's desperation to provide for his family. In the end, Ladri di biciclette is a film that really defines the idea of what pure cinema is and how it can relate itself to how the world works.

Vittorio De Sica Films: (Rose scarlatte) - (Maddalena, zero in condotta) - (Teresa Venerdi) - (Un garibaldino al convento) - (The Children Are Watching Us) - (La porta del cielo) - (Shoeshine) - (Heart and Soul (1948 film)) - (Miracle in Milan) - Umberto D. - (It Happened in the Park) - (Terminal Station) - (The Gold of Naples) - (The Roof) - (Anna of Brooklyn) - Two Women (1960 film) - (The Last Judgment) - (Boccaccio ‘70) - (The Condemned of Altona) - (Il Boom) - Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow - (Marriage Italian-Style) - (Un monde nouveau) - (After the Fox) - (Woman Times Seven) - (Le streghe) - (A Place for Lovers) - (Sunflowers (1970 film)) - (The Garden of Finzi-Continis) - (Lo chiameremo Andrea) - (A Brief Vacation) - (The Voyage)

© thevoid99 2011

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