16 April 1999 | Don-102
Heartfelt Drama of Post WWII Poverty a Must-See...
The Italian neo-realist film movement began around the end of WWII with Roberto Rossellini's OPEN CITY in 1946. It is defined and encapsulated by this striking film directed by Vittorio De Sica. THE BICYCLE THIEF is the best of a group of films that depicted the hardship and despair that Europeans, specifically Italians, went through after the death and destruction of the war. The economy was horrible, and the towns and cities were half-destroyed and decaying. Rome is the location for THE BICYCLE THIEF and De Sica shoots the city in grainy black and white with non-professional actors to get a simple, yet unbearingly emotional point across. A simple thing such as a bike can be someone's entire world at that time and losing it means doing something irrational or perhaps necessary.
The lead in the film is played by Lamberto Maggiorani who seems to be a very good actor. He is not an actor, however, and maybe this is why the film hits its mark so well and comes across so realistically. Maggiorani is of this difficult world and his brooding face is a clear indication of this. His job is to plaster film posters up on the walls of buildings all over Rome. He even hangs a picture that symbolizes the absolute opposite of the misery surrounding him. Rita Hayworth from GILDA is on the walls all over the city, a sign of joy to some, a representation of their own lowly status to others.
When the bicycle is actually stolen, the "title" character is sought after by Maggiorani and his young son (Enzo Staiola), a little kid with so much acting ability, you swear this must be a documentary. A grueling search throughout Rome has the essential parts of the movie, because we see up close the actual people and places the neo-realist film movement came to represent. It is a small, sad world they live in and the bike has to be found so that they can live. The father is put to the ultimate test in front of his son. Will he do the honorable thing or will he do what his mind and heart know is only possible? These are the tense moments of the film's climax.
There is a lot of THE BICYCLE THIEF in Benigni's LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and some obvious comparisons have been drawn because of the father-son relationship. They are worthy of comparison and have equal artistic prowess. What is different about THIEF is the level of intensity maintained throughout. I felt the key element was the music by Alessandro Cicognini, a simple horn that plays so tragically that it is a main character in the picture. What De Sica does here, as well as other neo-realist directors (Rossellini, Fellini), is create for American audiences a powerful counterpoint to what we are used to. An honest, non-corporate portrait of the struggle for life and self-respect. THE BICYCLE THIEF is one of the finest films ever made.
RATING: 10 of 10