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A poor man and his son search Rome for the stolen bicycle he needs to go to work.
Vittorio De Sica's remarkable 1947 drama of desperation and survival in Italy's devastating post-war depression earned a special Oscar for its affecting power. Shot in the streets and alleys of Rome, De Sica uses the real-life environment of contemporary life to frame his moving drama of a desperate father whose new job delivering cinema posters is threatened when a street thief steals his bicycle. Too poor to buy another, he and his son take to the streets in an impossible search for his bike. Cast with nonactors and filled with the real street life of Rome, this landmark film helped define the Italian neorealist approach with its mix of real life details, poetic imagery, and warm sentimentality. De Sica uses the wandering pair to witness the lives of everyday folks, but ultimately he paints a quiet, poignant portrait of father and son, played by nonprofessionals Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola, whose understated performances carry the heart of the film. De Sica and scenarist Cesare Zavattini also collaborated on Shoeshine, Miracle in Milan, and Umberto D, all classics in the neorealist vein, but none of which approach the simple poetry and quiet power achieved in The Bicycle Thief. --Sean Axmaker
On the DVD
The two-disc Criterion DVD of Bicycle Thieves is most significant for its fine digitally restored print quality, a marked improvement over previous video editions of the film. Now the beauties of this devastating masterpiece of Italian Neorealism shine through anew: the richness of the locations, the simple clarity of the performances, the heartbreaking details of the daily lives of the dispossessed. No commentary track, but a first-rate booklet gives a primer on the movie, with critical appreciations (including a classic take by Andre Bazin), a bell-ringing Neorealist manifesto by screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, and a variety of memoirs on the making of the film, including one by director Vittorio De Sica. A second disc has three well-chosen extras. Life as It Is: The Neorealist Movement in Italy is a useful 40-minute intro to the general subject of postwar Italian cinema. Working with De Sica is a 22-minute doc with reminiscences from surviving members of the Bicycle Thieves cast and crew, including Enzo Staiola, the unforgettable little boy who was plucked out of a crowd to star in the film. A 55-minute documentary on the life of Zavattini, made for European TV, gives background on this feisty leading light of Neorealism; testimony is offered by Bernardo Bertolucci and Roberto Benigni, among others. By the way, for years the film was known in the U.S. as The Bicycle Thief, but if you re-visit it you'll be struck by how shatteringly appropriate the restoration of the original plural is. --Robert Horton
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This Criterion edition of the film is fantastic. The print and transfer look better than I've ever seen it look, although the film does certainly show its age, with some scratches and lines showing up from time to time. The audio is fine.. the original mono Italian soundtrack appears to have been cleaned a bit as well, as there is minimal noise or hiss which allows the beautiful score to work its magic free of distractions. The second disc has promising special features, which I admit I haven't gotten around to viewing yet, and the package also comes with a 75 page booklet with numerous essays, both contemporary to the film and more modern, including writings by director Vittorio De Sica, screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, legendary film theorist Andre Bazin, and Sergio Leone, who as I learned from his essay, had a small cameo in the film.
All in all, this Criterion release is among the best in their entire collection and is a necessary addition to any serious film lover's shelf.
Crowds of unemployed men in search of work and a paycheck huddle in the cold around
each and every viable business in the city. In spite of it all, Italians remained a happy, high energy
people. The story line is realistic as are the main characters. The times were tough.
We see what it means to struggle for food and shelter in order to keep
families afloat. The photography is striking and beautifully choreographed
early in the movie. The film's visual prowess takes a back seat
to the story line during the later half of the film. The story is simple, its message
is powerful. I recommended it to my daughter who was born in 1973, approximately 30 years after this film was made.
It is tough for her generation to relate to black and white films
and life in the 1940s -the aftermath of a world war. This was a time that was
somber and grey. The story follows the relationship between a father
in pursuit of work and his young son. The father finds a job but must have a bike in order to get to work.
He can't afford public transportation. This happy, optimistic fellow scrapes together the
funds needed to get his bike out of hock. From this point on, the story unfolds.
His bike is stolen along with his ability to provide for his family. After that, the man
finds himself tempted to steal a bike to save his job. While, I am not inclined to label this
one of the great movies of our times, I recommend it heartily.
It is a poignant film that tells us a great deal about how it was
to live in Rome after World War II with many stores closed,
and both food and jobs were scarce. The man in this story
is a family man. He must come to terms with behaving in a way
that will leave a permanent blot on his father-son relationship.