Sheer perfection. This is a perfect movie—perfectly conceived and executed—and is one of my favorite movies of all-time. I’ve seen it at least six times now and it never loses its ability to wring out the emotion as I watch it. The Bicycle Thief hurts so good.
Director Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film is among the canon of the neo-realist movement in post-WWII Italian cinema. Neo-realism was a movement that attempted to toss away excess and to tell real stories with real human beings. These films attempt to address everyday moments of a normal person in a heartbreaking, moving and dramatic manner. “My purpose is to find the element of drama in daily situations” De Sica said regarding the storyline of The Bicycle Thief.
The film's story is set around the poverty and unemployment of a single family. Antonio is out of work. He gets a job to put up posters but needs his bicycle to do the job. To get the bike out of the pawn shop the family hocks their linens. On the first day of his job, the bike is stolen. Antonio and his son Bruno go on a search trying to find the bike that will put food on their table.
That’s the simple version of the story. The film has so many layers to it that each time I watch it another is peeled back for me to discover. Only the great movies can do that for you as a viewer. Sometimes I notice the father-son elements, sometimes I pay attention to the way poverty/ unemployment have a significant role in the film’s story. This time I really noticed the use of God/religion/psychics in the story and how it relates to Antonio’s plight.
Most of the time I just get swept up in the desperation of the father who knows the consequences for his job and his family if he doesn’t locate the bicycle. With the bicycle, they aren’t well off, but he won’t bury himself in the shame of unemployment and the struggle to survive that losing the bicycle will cause.
The Bicycle Thief, like other neo-realist films from this period, relies heavily on non-professional actors and extensive location shooting. This adds to the feeling of “realness” in what you see on screen. You see real alleys, churches, building stairwells, streets and apartments.
The Bicycle Thief has one of the most devastating endings in the history of cinema. I don’t care how many times I watch the film, I’m blown away and crushed for the rest of the day. That’s a good thing in my book. Any movie that takes you into another emotional state because you love the characters and the story so much is a complete success to me. In the case of The Bicycle Thief, it’s simply one of the best movies in the history of cinema.