Directed by Vittorio De Sica. Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell, Gino Saltamerenda. Arthur Mayer & Joseph Burstyn (US-1949).
Decent Films Ratings
|?Teens & Up|
Content advisory: Some crass references; a subplot involving attempted divination. Subtitles.
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By Steven D. Greydanus
A defining landmark of Italian neorealism and a haunting fable of want and desperation, Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri di Biciclette, traditionally known as The Bicycle Thief in the US but released in the UK with the more accurate title translation of Bicycle Thieves, tells a story of such simplicity and power that one could sum up the key events in a single sentence — as in fact many reviews of the film do, though this one will not — and someone who had never seen the film might read the sentence and remember the premise forever.
The story begins at a government unemployment office where Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) waits along with dozens of other men for work opportunities. The Bicycle Thief doesn’t beg for sympathy for Ricci, doesn’t go out of its way to make him noble or sympathetic. When a job announcement turns up that he might be able to take, he isn’t even waiting with the others to hear it, and needs someone else to alert him to the opportunity. But the job requires a bicycle, and Ricci has pawned his. From there the story proceeds inevitably to its heartbreaking resolution, if one can use that word where nothing has been resolved.
As with any fable, the heart of this story’s power is not in the style of the telling, but in the power of the situation it describes. At the same time, this situation, this story has become practically synonymous with the style and milieu of Italian neorealism, with its socioeconomic concerns, its loosely structured storytelling, and the unpolished realism of its real locations and untrained actors.
In a word, The Bicycle Thief is an ideal marriage of form and meaning. Even the title is indispensable; simply knowing that the film is called The Bicycle Thief completely changes the experience of watching the film… and it changes yet again if we know that the real title, alas, is Bicycle Thieves.
Previously available on DVD from Image Entertainment, De Sica’s masterpiece is now available from Criterion under the literal title Bicycle Thieves. The lavish new edition offers a new high-definition restoration providing superior image quality, as well as improved English subtitles and a generous assortment of extras.
Among these are optional English dubbing, a collection of interviews including a pair by two of De Sica’s collaborators, and a feature on Italian neorealism. There is also a 75-page booklet offering new and old essays on the film and its director.