by Ken B.
Bicycle Thieves is a movie from a filmmaking period known as Italian neorealism, popular right after World War II, usually about poor people (or poverty in general), and using largely unknown actors. Bicycle Thieves is a classic neorealism movie – it came out in 1948, is centered around a poor family, and uses actors that had not done many roles before this. It is an efficient drama, and possibly the only one that is able to make such a convincing case for attention over a stolen bike.
2013 had The Butler, a confident father-son picture with a much larger background story. Bicycle Thieves is a bit more conventional in its paternal story. There is Antonio (LAMBERTO MAGGIORANI), a poor Italian man with a wife (LIANELLA CARELL), and two children. The oldest is Bruno (ENZO STAIOLA), who is maybe six or seven. After selling some bedsheets, Antonio is able to buy back his bicycle which was pawned some time ago. He has a new job putting posters on city buildings, which requires transportation over small distances. One day, while he’s not looking, a man steals his bicycle, sparking a city-wide search over Rome to recover the bicycle, most likely scrapped for parts, and apprehend the thief, with the help of a few friends and Bruno, of course.
When it comes to movie plots, Bicycle Thieves doesn’t have a very elaborate one, but it’s still a convincing and interesting story nonetheless. This is a movie that truly lets you care about its characters, despite the fact that there is almost no backstory given for them.
There’s an interesting tidbit. Bicycle Thieves manages to create likable and identifiable main characters even though we don’t know where they came from. Antonio mentions early on that he’s felt unfortunate since the beginning of his life – we don’t know exactly what his early life entails, but somehow the film convinces us that such information is irrelevant. To be a good movie, it doesn’t need it, but I can’t help but feel that at least a bit of background wouldn’t hurt.
Bicycle Thieves proves to be a good character study – Antonio (or Maria, his wife, actually) sells his bedsheets in order to reclaim his bicycle, and it is dramatically taken away from him days later. It is the examination of a man obsessed, willing to stop at nothing to achieve his goal. On one end, it is an exceedingly straightforward and minimalist film (note above paragraph), but once you think about it, it becomes an allegory for humanity, will, and late in the film, gratitude and love. It is engrossing and emotional, and that is why it has survived the decades with such a high reputation.