(Ladri di biciclette)
Italian Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Vittorio De Sica|
|Produced by||Giuseppe Amato|
Vittorio De Sica
Suso Cecchi D'Amico
|Music by||Alessandro Cicognini|
|Editing by||Eraldo Da Roma|
Ente Nazionale Industrie
November 24, 1948
December 12, 1949
|Running time||93 minutes|
Bicycle Thieves (Italian: Ladri di biciclette, also known as The Bicycle Thief) is a 1948 Italian neorealist film directed by Vittorio De Sica. It tells the story of a poor man searching the streets of Rome for his stolen bicycle, which he needs to be able to work. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Luigi Bartolini and was adapted for the screen by Cesare Zavattini. It stars Lamberto Maggiorani as the poor man searching for his lost bicycle and Enzo Staiola as his son.
The film is frequently on critics' and directors' lists of the best films ever made. It was given an Academy Honorary Award in 1950, and, just four years after its release, was deemed the greatest film of all time by the magazine Sight & Sound's poll of filmmakers and critics in 1952. The film placed sixth as the greatest ever made in Sight & Sound's latest directors' poll, conducted in 2002, and is in top 10 of the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.
The film tells the story of Antonio Ricci, an unemployed man in the depressed post-World War II economy of Italy. With no money and a wife and two children to support, he is desperate for work. He is delighted to at last get a good job hanging up posters, but on the sole condition that he has a bicycle which must be used for work. He is told unequivocally: "No bicycle, no job." His wife Maria pawns their bedsheets in order to get money to redeem his bicycle from the pawnbroker.
Early on in the film, Ricci's coveted bicycle is stolen by a bold young thief who snatches it when he is hanging up a poster.
Antonio thinks that the police will take the theft very seriously, but they are not really interested in the petty theft of a bike. The only option is for Antonio and his friends to walk the streets of Rome themselves, looking for the bicycle. After trying for hours with no luck, they finally give up and leave.
After a rare treat of a meal in a restaurant, Antonio admits to his son that if he isn't able to work, they will simply starve. Desperate for leads and with his better judgement clouded, Antonio even visits the dubious backstreet fortune teller that he had earlier mocked, in the hope that she may be able to shed light upon the bike's whereabouts. However, she merely doles out to him one of the truisms that form her stock in trade: "you'll find the bike quickly, or not at all." Feeling cheated, a crestfallen Antonio hands over to her some of the last money that they have. As he walks out of the house of the "prophet", he encounters the thief and chases him into a whorehouse.
Antonio corners the thief (who, it seems, had already sold the bicycle) outside and is set upon by the thief's neighbours while Bruno slips off to summon the police to the apartment. Antonio meanwhile, angrily accuses the thief of stealing his bike but the boy denies all knowledge of the crime. When the policeman arrives, he sees the accused boy lying on the floor feigning a seizure and surrounded by irate neighbours who blame Antonio's accusations for causing the "innocent" boy's fit.
The policeman tells Antonio that although he may have seen the boy stealing the bike, he did not catch the thief red-handed, nor has he any witnesses and that Antonio making an accusation is not good enough. With no proof and with the thief's neighbours willing to give him a false alibi, he abandons his cause. Antonio walks away from the house in despair, as the thief's neighbours follow, jeering at him and reminding him to never come back.
At the end of the film in one of the most resonant scenes, Antonio is sitting on the curb outside the packed football stadium. He looks at the hundreds and hundreds of bicycles that are parked outside the stadium and as he cradles his head in despair, a fleet of bicycles mockingly speeds past him.
After vacillating for some time about whether to steal one for himself, he decides he has no other option but to snatch one that he spots outside an apartment. Unluckily, he is seen taking the bike and caught by a crowd of angry men who slap and humiliate him in front of his son. Ironically, this time with an army of witnesses who catch him, he is frogmarched off to the police station, but before they get there, the owner sees how upset Bruno is, and declines to press charges.
The film ends with Antonio and his son, sad and let down from what has just happened, they walk along in a crowd, leaving us with a dim outlook for the two. Holding hands, they are both reduced to tears.
Bicycle Thieves is the best known neo-realist film; a movement begun by Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City (1945), which attempted to give a new degree of realism to cinema. Following the precepts of the movement, De Sica shot only on location in Rome, and instead of professional actors used nonactors with no training in performance; for example, Lamberto Maggiorani, the leading actor, was a factory worker. The picture is also in the Vatican's Best Films List for portraying humanistic values.
Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, lauded the film and its message in his review. He wrote, "Again the Italians have sent us a brilliant and devastating film in Vittorio De Sica's rueful drama of modern city life, The Bicycle Thief. Widely and fervently heralded by those who had seen it abroad (where it already has won several prizes at various film festivals), this heart-tearing picture of frustration, which came to the [World Theater] yesterday, bids fair to fulfill all the forecasts of its absolute triumph over here. For once more the talented De Sica, who gave us the shattering Shoeshine that desperately tragic demonstration of juvenile corruption in post-war Rome, has laid hold upon and sharply imaged in simple and realistic terms a major—indeed, a fundamental and universal—dramatic theme. It is the isolation and loneliness of the little man in this complex social world that is ironically blessed with institutions to comfort and protect mankind".
When the film was re-released in the late 1990s Bob Graham, staff film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, gave the drama a positive review: "The roles are played by non-actors, Lamberto Maggiorani as the father and Enzo Staiola as the solemn boy, who sometimes appears to be a miniature man. They bring a grave dignity to De Sica's unblinking view of post-war Italy. The wheel of life turns and grinds people down; the man who was riding high in the morning is brought low by nightfall. It is impossible to imagine this story in any other form than De Sica's. The new black-and-white print has an extraordinary range of gray tones that get darker as life closes in".
The plot of Tim Burton's Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), which features Pee-wee Herman trying to find his stolen bike, is loosely based on Bicycle Thieves. Swedish director Lukas Moodysson has listed the film as one of his favorite films of all time. In the 1992 film, The Player, the "Bicycle Thief", as it is called, becomes a minor player in the satirical look at Hollywood.
Wang Xiaoshuai's film Beijing Bicycle explores similar themes of poverty and alienation, set in late 20th-century Beijing. Such similarities, and the bicycle theft driving the plot, have led critics to see parallels in the films.
Bicycle Thieves also influenced several Indian films. It was cited as an influence on several early Indian art films, including Bimal Roy's Two Acres of Land (1953) and Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (1955). The plot of the 2007 Tamil film, Polladhavan, which features Dhanush trying to find his stolen bike, was loosely inspired by Bicycle Thieves. Indian director Anurag Kashyap cites this film as an his inspiration for becoming a director
The original Italian title literally translates into English as Bicycle Thieves, ladri being plural in Italian, but the film has usually been released in the United States as The Bicycle Thief. According to critic Philip French of The Observer (UK), this alternative title is misleading, "because the desperate hero eventually becomes himself a bicycle thief". The film is released in the UK as the more accurate Bicycle Thieves, and the recent Criterion Collection release in North America uses Bicycle Thieves.
When the film was re-released in the late 1990s Bob Graham, staff film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, was quoted as saying that he preferred the title The Bicycle Thief, stating, "Purists have criticized the English title of the film as a poor translation of the Italian ladri, which is plural. What blindness! The Bicycle Thief is one of those wonderful titles whose power does not sink in until the film is over".
|Awards and achievements|
|Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
(Honorary Award before creation of official award)
The Walls of Malapaga
|BAFTA Award for Best Film from any Source
All About Eve