The Bicycle Thief

I have to admit, I was really dreading watching this. I have bad memories of Italian neorealism from film history classes. When I studied this genre, we had to watch Rome, Open City by Roberto Rossellini, which I didn't really love. We also were screened The Bicycle Thief, directed by Vittorio de Sica (1946). The classroom was slightly cold, where to get warm you had to curl up in your comfy, plush theater seat to generate body heat. As I watched the students around me one by one fall asleep, so did I.
Remembering this, I was not excited for trying to watch it again. My boyfriend knows all about my history of sleeping during any Italian neorealist films, so before he left last night, he put a Red Bull he had bought for himself into the fridge. "This is if you have an emergency during the movie," he told me seriously. I nodded solemnly. I tried to psyche myself up during the day. "If you go downstairs to watch this movie, you can eat the veggie sushi you bought and have a diet Mountain Dew!" I told myself. Not out loud. I promise. So, equipped with some treats, I tried to not get too comfortable to attempt to watch this film once and for all.

Now that it's over, I'm sort of embarrassed at all my hemming and hawing. Sure, neorealism films are not the most uplifting or exciting to watch, but I really enjoyed the story of The Bicycle Thief. Neorealist films are basically realistic movies, cast often with non-actors, shot on location, and tell stories about the working class and the poverty they live in. The Bicycle Thief is about Antonio Ricci, a poor man, looking for a job. He is offered one, but he needs a bike in order to take it. He lies and says he has one. At home, his wife pawns their sheets so that he is able to get a bicycle. His job involves putting up posters on walls all over Rome. While he is working, his bike is stolen. He tries to chase the man, but loses him, and is faced with the impossible task of walking all over Rome to find the thief.

It sounds so simple, but it was so real, watching it. I felt Antonio's pain, to the point where I was crying by the end of the film (although for the record, my mood today is such that I would probably cry at the end of Dogma). It is not a happy story - but it feels like a true story, and that is so much more important. As Antonio looks for his bike, he is surrounded by other bikes. There are tons of them, riding around him, parked on sidewalks, racing down the street. Everyone can relate to this, even on a basic level, since we all have felt the panic and sorrow of losing something. But for Antonio, this is no simple loss. The loss of his bike means the loss of his job, and therefore, his family must continue to suffer. The actor portrays this loss so well, his pain felt very real to me. There are happy scenes in the film, like when Antonio takes his son out for a pizza. But even that is bittersweet, as his son sadly watches wealthier people eat better food in the same restaurant.

Writing about this film, Ebert says, "...if the film is allowed to wait long enough--until the filmmakers are dead, until neorealism is less an inspiration than a memory--The Bicycle Thief escapes from its critics and becomes, once again, a story. It is happiest that way" (The Great Movies, 64-66). I cannot agree with this more. This was one of many movies that for me was ruined by having to watch it as a student. I wasn't able to watch some movies like this for pleasure, or for the story. I had to look for signs of the genre and list them afterward. Now, finally able to just watch this story and not take notes on it or have to say anything after it other than if I liked it or not, I finally like it.

This movie is only about an hour and a half long, and it's streaming on Netflix right now for those of you who have it. I hope you will consider watching it if you haven't seen it. I tried to not write too much about the plot since I didn't want to take away any of the emotional power that this film still has. Let me know if you watch this movie, I hope you will love it as much as I did!

Have any of you seen this movie, or other Italian neorealist films? Comment and share your thoughts with me!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Bicycle Thief
Wikipedia page on Italian Neorealism

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