Ladri di Biciclete (1948)

Ladri di Biciclette, another black and white classic, most people think. But why has this film been given the status of a classic? It usually happens because of complexity, technical innovations (just think of “Singing in the Rain” or “Citizen Kane”), a radical break with conventions, … But that is not the case at all with this film by Vittorio de Sica. “Ladri di Biciclette” stands out because of its simplicity, its straightforwardness in objectives and means, and its straight-from-life storyline. In this way, the film still manages to maintain a universal appeal.

Vittorio de Sica directed “Ladri di Biciclette” in 1948. He released the film through his own company: Produzione De Sica. The title of the film, literally translated as “Bicycle Thieves”, immediately captures the essence of the film. Antonio Ricci, a poor man, has found a job that requires a bicycle. After a lot of effort, he manages to buy a bicycle and on his first day at work it is stolen. He then scours the streets of Rome with his son Bruno to find his stolen bicycle. After all, the police are unwilling and unable to help him and he desperately needs the money to keep his family out of poverty. But his search is unsuccessful. At the end he makes a desperate attempt and tries to steal a bicycle himself. He is quickly stopped, but no complaint is filed.

The last images are, in my opinion, the strongest. The father-son bond is very cleverly exploited here. Throughout the film it is just the two of them, an alliance against the world, looking for the bicycle, their hope for a better life. When this fails, father and son disappear into the crowd in shame, accompanied by fantastic camera work. We see alternating shots of the father and son. When you look into Bruno’s eyes, you see him realise that his father is just an ordinary guy, and you also see him suddenly grow up.

It is already clear that the film is full of emotions. You have the father-son bond as I just said, but in the beginning there is also a lot of frustration shown. Especially with all the workers who cannot find work. Ricci’s frustration turns to hope when things seem to be going in the right direction for him. This short period plays at a slower pace, accompanied by calm and cheerful background music. It is also in this hopeful period that the film deviates somewhat from neorealism, namely with the fortune teller.

The film is a preeminent example of post-war Italian neorealism. Films at the time mainly appealed to the feeling of moral and ideological defeat, instead of focusing on political messages. People start telling stories about poor and working people. Italian neorealism wants to show the economic and moral situation after the war, and its effect on ordinary people. As you can see at the beginning of “Ladri di Biciclette”, the economic situation is anything but optimal; people stand in long lines for a job. De Sica also uses non-professional actors to increase the level of reality. These ordinary people speak in their own dialect instead of standard Italian.

One of the founders of the neorealist movement was Roberto Rossellini (with “Rome, città aperta”), followed by Luchino Visconti. But it was mainly De Sica who strengthened neorealism. He made all his neorealist films together with screenwriter Cesare Zavattini and “Ladri di Biciclette” was the best film in the genre.

De Sicca only uses very simple and basic camera techniques, all subtleties are avoided during editing in favour of reality. De Sicca also does not play with light or shadow, nor does he use striking or bombastic decors. “Ladri di Biciclette” takes place entirely in the streets and alleys of Rome.

“Ladri di Biciclette” is a film that brings tears to your eyes. It is a theme that appeals and moves every viewer, and that is also the intention. At first glance it is a very sincere film, but at second glance it is a film in which all genre clichés are used to exploit the viewer’s most primal emotional feelings. Ricci and his son Bruno go through a chaotic labyrinth of alleys and small Roman streets in search of his bicycle (which very appropriately bears the brand “Fides”) and have to deal with a failing government. De Sicca suddenly publishes a political-social pamphlet in which he takes a serious look at society, capitalism and religion. The entire film, every scene and every detail aims to let the viewer know that something is deeply wrong with society.

Happy watching,

Loes M.

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