How could I have been a college film major and missed seeing "The Bicycle Thieves?" I did however sit through hours and hours of Fassbinder, I have watched "Casablanca" and "Citizen Kane," I have seen Kurosawa, I have watched "Jules et Jim," I have seen Cukor and Hitchcock and Hawks, and I have seen Buñuel and Cocteau and Renoir. But I missed this in film school. And seeing as I am on a sort of Italian Neo-Realist kick, I thought now would be a great time to see this cornerstone of the genre.
Directed by Vittorio De Sica in 1948, it follows Antonio, a poverty stricken, out-of-work husband and father who finally gets a job after a year of being unemployed (sounds like 2010 America instead of 1940s post-war Europe, doesn't it?). He is lucky enough to be picked for a job putting up posters around Rome. The only catch is, he needs a bicycle to do it. His wife sells their BEDSHEETS (think about that) in order to get the cash needed to get his bike out of hock.
The world seems rosy for a moment, as we see his pride and imagination rise up out of the squalor of the miserable tenement housing he lives in with his wife and children. But on his first day of work, his bicycle is stolen in front of him while he is on a ladder. He spends the rest of the film with his small son looking for the thief and for the return of his bicycle which comes to represent so much more than a piece of metal on wheels. It comes to mean salvation itself for Antonio and his family.
True to the Neo-Realist genre, this film is heartbreaking and painful. The tone and texture of the film is certainly helped by the fact that De Sica cast non-actors with no performance training. A breathtakingly subtle and unselfconscious performance comes from real factory worker Lamberto Maggiorani, as our main character Antonio.
Recommend? Yes. It is yet another important piece of film history.