The Bicyle Thief [Ladri di biciclette]

(Italy 1948)

I didn’t expect much from a film approaching 70 years old, but I was wrong. So wrong. Deceptively simple, beautiful, and easy, The Bicycle Thief strikes a universal chord that resonates today as much as it must have when it was originally released. Bravo!

The plot is practically nothing: a down-and-out bricklayer (Lamberto Maggiorani) gets lucky and snags a job hanging posters advertising movies (Rita Hayworth, specifically) in Rome. He needs a bicycle to do the job, and his bike is stolen on his first day of work. The impact is devastating: he can’t do the job without a bike, which means his family goes hungry. So, he enlists his son (Enzo Staiola) and neighbors to track it down. His desperation is palpable, and it gets all the more intense with each unsuccessful attempt at finding his bike. A series of events leads him to the thief (Vittorio Antonucci), culminating in a confrontation that does not go as expected. There’s a moral to the story, and it hits hard.

I’m blown away by the psychology here: Vittorio de Sica’s statement on human nature is simple yet eloquent and totally spot on. The Bicycle Thief is a fine example of cinema, Italian or otherwise, at its best.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) A

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