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BICYCLE THIEVES

Director: VITTORIO DE SICA

ITALY • 1948 • SUBTITLED • BLACK AND WHITE • DIGITAL • 93 MIN


VITTORIO DE SICA’S 1948 ITALIAN NEO-REALIST CLASSIC IS RE-RELEASED IN A BEAUTIFULLY RESTORED DIGITAL VERSION.

With a tiny budget, a cast of non-actors and a subject so slight that it would scarcely rate a headline in a newspaper (a bill-poster’s livelihood is threatened when his bicycle is stolen), Bicycle Thieves nevertheless created a sensation on release and was hailed as one of the best films ever made. Its reputation has fluctuated over the years but nobody remotely interested in world cinema could afford to miss it.

Part of its initial impact was due to the period in which it appeared. Reacting against wartime Italian melodrama and in opposition to Hollywood escapism, it brought ordinary people onto the screen and rediscovered the film camera’s unique capacity for social observation. Yet its artless realism is deceptive. Cesare Zavattini’s subtly linear screenplay combines the narrative suspense elements of search and chase. As father and son explore the lower depths of Rome and a whole host of dark social detail is uncovered, the search parallels the man’s loss of dignity and the boy’s premature vision of the world’s cruelty and injustice.

The film has been criticised for its limited political perspective, but it never attempted to analyse the causes of poverty: De Sica instead wanted to make an audience feel for poverty’s victims and share its anger at social conditions that reduce decent people to stealing from each other in order to survive. There are few more moving sequences in all cinema than the film’s conclusion, where the father’s desperation finally breaks under the pressure and his son, who has been at first his companion and then his shadow, emerges as his conscience and support. — Neil Sinyard.

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