The Bicycle Thief (Ladri Di Biciclette)

Date: October 7, 2012

            The Bicycle Thief (Italian: Ladri di biciclette) is Italian movie released in 24 Nov, 1948. Original translation of the Italian title gives name “Bicycle Thieves” but movie is released as “The Bicycle Thief” in United States, but in UK and in Criterion Collection in North America it’s released as “Bicycle Thieves”.

            Bicycle thief is the best example of Italian neorealism. He has shot on location (not in studio) and cast only untrained non-actors (Lamberto Maggiorani was a real factory worker). Maggiorani got opportunity to play after he brought his son to an audition for film. But later-on 8 years old boy Enzo Staiola was casted when De Sica saw 8-years boy watching film production and helping his father to sell flowers at the street.

            This movie has received Academy Honorary Award, 1950 and was deemed as the greatest film of all time and ranked in sixth position among greatest-ever films by Sight Sound Magazine’s poll of filmmakers. It’s one of the top ten among the British Film Institute’s List of  the  fifty films you should see by the age of fourteen.

Some other awards received by this movie are:

·         Special Prize of the Jury, 1949 (Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland).
·         Best Director, Best Film of Any Language, 1949 (National Board of Review, Italy).
·         Best Foreign Language Film, Italy 1949 (New York Film Critics Circle Awards).
·         Academy Awards: Nominated, Oscar, Best Writing, Screenplay, 1950.
·         Golden Wolf for Best Film: 1950 (Bucharest Film Festival).
·         BAFTA Award, Best Film from any Source, 1990 (British Academy of Film and Television Arts).
·         Best European Film (Bedste europæiske film), 1950. Bodil Awards, Denmark.
·         Golden Globe, Best Foreign Film, 1950 (Golden Globes).
·         CEC Award, Best Foreign Film (cinema Writers Circle Awards, Spain).
·         Kinema Junpo Award, Best Foreign Language Film, 1951 (Kinema Junpo Awards, Japan, Tokiyo).
·         Best Cinematography (Migliore Fotografia), Carlo Montuori.
·         Best Director (Migliore Regia).
·         Best Film (Miglior Film a Soggetto).
·         Best Score (Miglior Commento Musicale), Alessandro Cicognini.
·         Best Screenplay (Migliore Sceneggiatura), Cesare Zavattini, Vittorio De Sica, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Oreste Biancoli, Adolfo Franci, and Gerardo Guerrieri.
·         Best Story (Miglior Soggetto).

The movie is about a poor father who is searching his stolen bicycle in post-World War II Rome to save his job which is only source to join his hand and mouth. This movie is based on the novel by Luigi Bartolini which is produced by Cesare Zavattini and directed by Vittorio De Sica. In this movie Lamberto Maggiorani has played role of father Antonio Ricci and Enzo Staiola as his plucky young son Bruno Ricci. Lianella Carell has played role of Mrs. Maria Ricci, Antonio’s wife. Vittorio Antonucci appeared as thief who guides whole story.

Movie Review.

Whole movie revolves around a poor family of Antonio Ricci, who lives with his two sons and a wife. After World War II, he has to seek a job that supports him to raise his family. In the crowd of peoples, he got job but he needs to have a bicycle. He told it to his spouse after returning home. They sold their bed sheet and bought a bicycle. Now he could earn some money for his family. Antonio could leave his son to school and go to job.

On his first day of job while he was atop a ladder to post movie posters on the wall, his bicycle got snatched by young boy. He chased the boy, reported to police, told his friend to help him to search his bicycle. Next day he, his son with his few friends went in search of his bicycle. They searched everywhere. Also in the Piazza Vittorio market, where stolen goods were sold, but they became unable to find. While they were losing hope to find the bicycle, luckily they spot thief giving money to an old man in Porta Portese market. They became unable to catch the thief. Then after he followed old man and asked about the boy that he was talking with. Initially that old man refused to tell but later-on after getting little money old man told where the boy is.

Antonio and his son went to the location given by old man. They caught and inquired him. The boy acted like he was ill and become fainted. They were thrown off by the trail by thief’s confederation. Neighbors of the boy tried to beat Antonio for blaming him as thief and making him faint. Antonio’s son understood the situation and went to call police. After police has arrived Antonio and police went inside the house of boy in search of bicycle but they were unable to find even the parts of it. Police asked Antonio if he had any proof or witness. But Antonio was unable to give proof or witness and police said that he could do nothing.

Antonio returned back. After being sure he won’t find his bicycle, he planned to steal  bicycle. So he gave streetcar fair to his son and told him to wait at Monte Sacro. But he didn’t become success to steal bicycle.  The hue and cry is instantly raised and Bruno, who has missed the streetcar, was stunned to see his father surrounded and pulled from the bike. The bicycle's owner slapped the hat from Antonio's head. Antonio was being muscled toward the police station when the owner noticed crying Bruno holding his fathers hand, who was carrying Antonio's hat. The bicycle owner left him there without taking him to police station. They walked on slowly amid buffering crowd towards home.

           This is the story of the movie “The Bicycle Thief”. It intensely focuses in the life of working class and their behavior. The movie tries to show being thief is not an interest and supplies the possible answer of the question ‘what makes a thief?’ The movie tries to show how a person is bounded by responsibilities of family and what s/he can do to fulfill those responsibilities. To fulfill the responsibilities s/he has to good or bad job.

Antonio’s’ son, Bruno’s’ role made film more interesting.  He ran as fast as father and walked whole days without eating anything. Bruno looking up at his father to see his stress and grief and trying to learn what life is makes movies’ climax powerful. Viewers can see the climax of the movie and grief of father through the eye of his son. Whereas expressing his interest on learning new things by observing the parts of bicycle carefully and playing with it while searching bicycle in bicycle shop, looking to food eating by baby of millionaire and playing with his food while eating represents his childish behavior. In one scene Bruno refused to buy toys while seller tries to grab his interest toward it. This scene makes us feel that boy has understood the situation of his family. Also calling police while neighbor of a thief were going to beat his father makes us easy to imagine how clever the boy is.

Since Antonio is not a professional actor, we can easily predict lack of professionalism in few scenes. For an example after returning from search of his snatched bicycle just after it’s stolen, he sat on the ladder and show grief on his face. At that time he can’t express feeling of grief from inside. That grief seems artificial. But overall acting of him in movie is no doubt best. He became success to give justice to the role he played. But acting of son is more realistic than that of father in my view.

Though whole movie makes viewer concentrated, few scenes make us more sensitive. While wife of Antonio visit to the psychiatric after buying bicycle, Antonio has to wait downstairs. Later-on he asks his son to look after his bicycle and follow his wife. Viewers think that his bicycle will be lost here but it doesn’t. While searching bicycle in the Piazza Vittorio market, where stolen goods were sold, one of the sellers refuse to show serial number of bicycle he is painting. At this time some sorts of hope can be seen in the eyes of viewers. But prediction becomes wrong. Such scenes make viewer more sensitive.

Critiques made about films:

While releasing this movie in Italy, it was viewed as hostility as it presented Italians in negative way. Italian critic Guido Aristarco praised it complaining that “sentimentality might at time take the place of artistic emotions.” And Italian neorealist film director Luchino Visconti said that it was mistake to use professional actor to dub over Lamberto maggiorani’s dialogue

Pierre Leprohon wrote in Cinéma D'Aujourd that "what must not be ignored on the social level is that the character is shown not at the beginning of a crisis but at its outcome. One needs only to look at his face, his uncertain gait, his hesitant or fearful attitudes to understand that Ricci is already a victim, a diminished man who has lost his confidence." Lotte Eisner called it the best Italian film since World War II and Robert Winnington called it “the most successful record of any foreign film in British Cinema.” Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, wrote, “Again the Italians have sent us a brilliant and devastating film in Vittorio De Sica’s rueful drama of modern city life, The Bicycle Thief. Widely and fervently heralded by those who had seen it abroad (where it already has won several prizes at various film festivals), this heart-tearing picture of frustration, which came to [the World Theater] yesterday, bids fair to fulfill all the forecasts of its absolute triumph over here. For once more the talented De Sica, who gave us the shattering Shoeshine, that desperately tragic demonstration of juvenile corruption in post-war Rome, has laid hold upon and sharply imaged in simple and realistic terms a major—indeed, a fundamental and universal—dramatic theme. It is the isolation and loneliness of the little man in this complex social world that is ironically blessed with institutions to comfort and protect mankind”.

Bob Graham, staff film critic for the San Franscisco Chronicle, gave positive review: "The roles are played by non-actors, Lamberto Maggiorani as the father and Enzo Staiola as the solemn boy, who sometimes appears to be a miniature man. They bring a grave dignity to De Sica's unblinking view of post-war Italy. The wheel of life turns and grinds people down; the man who was riding high in the morning is brought low by nightfall. It is impossible to imagine this story in any other form than De Sica's. The new black-and-white print has an extraordinary range of grey tones that get darker as life closes in".

The movie is also in the Vatican’s Best Films List for portraying humanistic values.

So though both positive and negative critics had been made about the film, no doubt the movie is best. De Sica has done a great job to give his one of the best in his life. This movie proves to make good movie we don’t need to copy and cheat ideas of others. We have many stories in our locality which are enough to produce a good movie. Form this movie Nepalese movie industries should learn lesson and search ideas and stories that prevails in our society. They not only touch our heart but also make our movies compete in international market. But their standard should be maintained and should be in those languages which could be understood by everyone. We don’t lack stories but we lack research, idea, creativity and capability in our movie industry.

(This article has been written based on references taken from online and view made after watching movie by authors.)

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