Monday, April 26, 2010
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
It’s amazing at times to think of the fragility of life. The difference between a sweet, comfortable life and absolute poverty and despair is a razor’s edge. This is what the 1948 film Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) is about. The film takes a look at how easily a person’s world can come crashing down around his ears, as a man has his bicycle stolen, a bicycle pivotal not only to his livelihood, but his very happiness. The rest of the film follows the man through the streets of Rome as he tries desperately to recover his bicycle.
The film opens with scenes of the city of Rome. It then carries down to a group of poor, presumably unemployed men standing around. Another man comes out of a building their all standing around, and calls out a name: Antonio Ricci. Ricci answers, and we are introduced to our main character. The man is calling for Ricci because he has a job for him, a job which requires a bicycle. Ricci reveals that he doesn’t have a bicycle, but is so desperate for work, that he claims he can get one. He then leaves, and walks to where his wife is. Here we learn that the bicycle they did own was sold to pay for food. The two walk home together. His wife takes their bedsheets – a wedding present – and gives them to Antonio to be pawned. With this money, Antonio gets his bicycle back, and, the next day, sets off for work. After being briefed on how to do his job, he sets off into the city to begin his work. It isn’t long, however, before his bike is stolen while he is working, and, despite Antonio’s best efforts, the thief gets away. After this, Antonio spends the next day running all over the city of Rome trying to track down his bicycle.
The acting in this film is quite spectacular. Lamberto Maggiorani (Antonio Ricci) gives a very powerful performance. You can really feel his desperation, and later on, his insanity. Even as he descends further into madness, however, you still like him, still are rooting for him. Enzo Staiola, who plays Antonio’s son, also gives a very strong performance, despite his young age. He was my favorite character in the film. You can really see the love he has for his father, and the emotions he displays throughout the film are very moving. The shooting of the film is also very well done. This film is notable for its shots featuring real life, and real scenery, rather than Hollywood sets. You see a lot of normal people operating in the background. A lot of the scenes feel very manic, which is very appropriate for the film’s content. The real shots also make the film a lot more believable. The other thing the film makes use of, is the close up shot of the actor’s face. These shots serve to show off the acting talent of the entire cast.
There are a few shots in particular that I found astounding. The first is when Antonio pawns the sheets. The scene shows the sheets being given to a man, who climbs these massive shelves, bearing what appears to be thousands of other sheets. This film takes place in post-war (WWII) Italy, and this really shows the poverty of the country at the time. The other shot I liked was when Antonio asks his son to wait by a bridge while he went on his own to look for the bike. The shot stays on Antonio’s face, and after about 30 seconds, you hear off-screen someone shouting a little boy has jumped into the river. Antonio turns and slowly walks back, eventually breaking into a sprint as the woman’s voice off screen gets more desperate. This scene (which I’m opting not to give away) is one of the most powerful I have ever seen in my life. The last of my favorite scenes was at the very end, which is just too powerful to be explained on paper (not to mention my reluctance to give away plot spoilers), and really just must be seen.
I believe that this film is on the list for a number of reasons. The first is the way the film is shot. As I said before, this film uses a lot of shots featuring real life, rather than actors. This was truly revolutionary for the time, and is a technique still used to this day. I also felt this film is on the list for its numerous powerful themes and concepts, such as the moral argument behind stealing a loaf of bread to feed your family, and keeping things in perspective. This film, which I hadn’t heard of until I started this list, is truly a must see, and frankly I’m surprised this isn’t commonly included when people list off the great films (Citizen Kane, Psycho, Casablanca, etc.).