Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani; Enzo Staiola
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Distributor: Umbrella World cinema DVD
The simple bicycle is regularly voted the world’s best invention but nowhere is it more central to survival than in Vittorio De Sica’s heartbreaking film The Bicycle Thief. Adapted from Luigi Bartolini’s novel by De Sica’s long-time screenwriting partner Cesare Zavattino, the story centres on an unemployed man named Ricci who finally gets a job through the council’s labour exchange pasting up bill posters around town. The only hitch is that he needs a bicycle as his was pawned to get money to buy food. Realising the urgency of the situation, his wife rips the sheets off their bed and uses them to get the bike out of hock. But on the very first day of work, while he’s sticking up an incongruous movie poster promoting the glamorous Rita Hayworth in Gilda, his bike is pinched. And so begins Ricci’s desperate odyssey to retrieve it, through the streets and marketplaces of post war Rome. R
icci is accompanied by his little son Bruno who initially shared his father’s pride when he set off to work in his brand new uniform and now bears the burden of the bicycle’s loss. It is this relationship between father and son that forms the crux of the film. So obsessed with his quest does Ricci become that he is oblivious to the struggle that Bruno has keeping up with him. At one point, he even slaps the child causing the young boy to retreat in tears. In a fascinating DVD extra documentary, De Sica is also seen slapping the kid in preparation for a later scene; “Cry, Enzo. Cry!” he commands. And it works. The camera zooms in on his distraught face and we in the audience feel the tears prick our own eyes. Enzo is later rewarded with some candy and everything is fine. De Sica had been a matinee idol in the fascist era of the 30s and knew what it took to get a good performance on screen. It’s doubtful that this kind of direction would be acceptable today but by using it back then on non-professional actors, the Italian director won an Honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Film and created what has become widely regarded as a masterpiece of neo-realist filmmaking.