Leave the cannoli, take the movies

Review Blog

My Favorite Films - #7

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on November 12, 2010 at 8:45 PM

Wow, so sorry about the major lull in content there. Work getting in the way, etc. But here's the long awaited next entry in the series! My Favorite Films - #7 is finally here!




#7  The Bicycle Thief    VITTORIO DE SICA, 1948


        I don't think it would be hyperbolic to say few films manage socioeconomic and humanist themes as well as The Bicycle Thief (or Bicycle Thieves, depending on your preference). Set in a ravaged, depressed post-war Italy, and concerning characters who are all too relatable in their average everyman appeal, the movie comes from a popular wave of films known as Italian Neorealism. Simply put, Italian films made shortly after World War II focused on poor and/or working class characters, locating the poignant pangs of life with an unassuming eye for the ordinary. The Bicycle Thief, in my opinion, perhaps along with the director's own Umberto D., is the greatest work to come out of the movement.

        The story is spectacularly simple, and understated all the way through: a father, whose bicycle is integral to his newfound job, has it stolen on the first day and goes on a search for it accompanied by his young son. The relationship that ensues, and the portrait of the depressive economic state of Italy during the time, sets up an unforgettably beautiful record of the struggling working class, as well as a startling portrayal of human decency crumbling under a harsh societal climate. Making it particularly effective is indeed the central relationship between father and son, a rather conventional dynamic that nonetheless floors you with its elegant realism and softspoken melancholy. Dad is beyond despair, looking for his bicycle but gradually coming to the realization he won't be getting it back, and the way he must reconcile their dwindling hope to his son is heartbreaking.

       True to the movement's name, The Bicycle Thief is as naturalistic and underplayed as they come - no arm flailing, histrionics, or sensationalized speechifying here. Instead of heightened theatrics is something much warmer and more down-to-earth, a home-worn anthem to the average man filled with humility and pathos, and a document of genuine human life trying to hold on, by any means, during uneasy times. Filmmaking of this caliber and storytelling ease is extremely hard to come by.

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Categories: My Favorite Films

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