Italian Director Vittorio De Sica’s “The Bicycle thief” which was released in 1947 is considered as a nonrealist classic of all times. Surely the most acclaimed movie.
“The Bicycle Thief” has become one of those venerable masterpieces that people pay lip service to but never revisit out of fear that it has somehow become dated. And that would be a terrible mistake.
The beauty of this movie is how the complexity and depth of the film arise from such a simple story. Antonio needs his bicycle in order to do his job. It gets stolen and he has to find it so he can keep his job. For a plot summary that’s about all there is. However, director Vittorio De Sica tells the story in such a way that it becomes a meditation on themes as diverse as institutional dysfunction (police, church) and humanity. The movie doubles as an exploration of Post WWII Italy and a character study about one man’s struggle to endure in that world.
De Sica uses a wide array of cinematic techniques to tell the story and to give it the heft it undeniably achieves. A symbolic motif of “one going into many” is used a few different ways to indicate that Antonio’s plight is representative of the culture in Italy at the time. You have the group of towels being stacked to the ceiling with the Ricci’s recently sold towels being shown going into the huge pile. There’s also a few shots (not just the phenomenal final shot) of Antonio and Bruno falling in line with the masses of walking people. Finally, there are multiple shots of one bike and large groups of bikes. He also uses pans with the camera with background dialogue commenting on what is happening on-screen (notably in the church).
As for the story itself, I started out identifying with Antonio’s situation. How could you not? In a terrific opening 15-20 minutes De Sica crafts a character who is doing exactly what he has to in order to get by and provide for his family. It’s easy to see the honor in how he chooses to live life in such dire circumstances. He hasn’t done what so many lesser men have done – turn to crime or give up. His wife seems supportive, and his son obviously looks up to him. I found myself wanting him to succeed and I imagine most who see the film feel the same way.