The Bicycle Thief- Extra Credit Assignment (MoMA)


The Bicycle Thief (Also known as Bicycle Thieves) was an Italian Neorealist Film (which took place over the span of three days), directed by Vittorio De Sica in 1948. It was a moderate success in Italy and a huge hit all over the world. I recently went to the MoMA, to a screening of it and enjoyed it greatly. It kept me on the edge of my seat and when it was over it felt as if time flew right on by.

Italian Neorealism is a style of film characterized by stories set amongst the poor and working class, filmed on location, frequently using non professional actors. They mostly show the difficult economic and moral conditions of post World War Two Italy, reflecting the changes in the Italian psyche and the conditions of everyday live. Italian Neorealist has had an incredible impact on American Filmmaking.
Though Bicycle Thieves was an Italian Neorealist film in also used conventional editing for example in two scenes, the Restaurant scene and the final scene of Antonio Ricci stealing the bicycle. These were the two most pivotal scenes in the film. The restaurant scene showed Antonio Ricci and his son Bruno sitting down in a restaurant ordering food. They were trying to order Pizza and the waiter was telling them there is no Pizza being served here. This scene illustrated that they truly have never been to a restaurant before and they don’t even know how to eat. The shots of the other child in the restaurant from a more upper class family just proves that. In addition there were no close-ups in the film up until the restaurant scene. This was done on purpose to make us feel even more connected to the characters then we were beforehand and to make it more emotional. In the final scene Antonio decides to steal a bicycle and unlike the incident where his Bicycle was stolen, everyone came to help the man whose bike was taken by Antonio Ricci.
One thing I noticed was the mentioning of God in the film. This brings in the debate of “Is there free will or is everything predetermined“? Ricci for the most part of the film dismissed God, while his wife Maria was quite the opposite. This brings up the question of In a huge city like Rome, how can Antonio and Bruno find the thief and the accomplice both in the same day? Is it a coincidence? It feels more real to us the viewer because its random and there is chance involved. This is why the film appears more realist, because it has a mix of both free will and everything is predetermined in it. In addition the subject matter of the film makes it more realist. You never would see a Hollywood film about poor people. You could not tell the same story in the United States, that is why it feels more real to us the viewer. Another component of how this is different then a Hollywood film is, it is a lot harder to get a feel for who directed it, as in comparison you could of tell right away when watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Italian Neorealism is as close to the “Real world” as you can get.

Another interesting aspect of Bicycle Thieves is the fact that no one will help Antonio Ricci out of the situation he is in. He gets involved with the mainstream and non mainstream institutions and neither will come to his aid. For example, when he went to the cops they took down his info, but told him he is going to have to find it himself, it is “Just a Bicycle” which it clearly wasn’t to Antonio. Antonio also got involved with the Church, Government, Mafia, and Communists. One funny aspect was the scene with the Communists when they were rehearsing and arguing over the word “Gente” which means people. They couldn’t agree on how to say it. The fact that Antonio could not fit in into any of these institutions was a social criticism, and as well a criticism of Fascism.

Another great thing about Bicycle Thieves is the fact that you can watch it 60 years later and it still works because of a Father (Antonio) son (Bruno) storyline. Its an entry point for us all into the movie. Antonio and Bruno were both non professional actors while Maria (Antonio’s wife) was.

One thing I really liked in Bicycle Thieves was the on location shooting. In Italian Neorealism you have to actually find the location. You can’t shoot in a two bedroom and say it’s a one bedroom. If you want to shoot in a one bedroom you have to find a one bedroom. This is another component that makes the movie feel so real. There are no props in these movies, and they only use the available lights. In addition, there were long takes very few close-ups (except during the restaurant and final scene), and more documentary like and less stylized. The use of point of view shots were also avoided with the exception of the Restaurant and final scene. There was also an emphasis on the use of handheld cameras. Another great thing De Sica did was respect accidents, for example on one of the days of shooting it was not suppose to rain and it did, but they shot it and put it in the movie anyway. This was the scene when they were in the truck looking for the bicycle and had one of the actors improvise by saying “Why does it always have to rain on Sundays?” The dialogue sound was dubbed, that is why you can notice the mouths of the actors sometimes moving with the sound a little off.

In the end, like most Italian Neorealist films, there was a sense of lack of closure in Bicycle Thieves. After they let Bruno and Antonio go after he was caught stealing the bike you get a sense they are going to starve over time, and this is just one story out of many similar stories in Italy at the time. These were the social issues the people were dealing with at the time with no end in site.

On a personal note, I really enjoyed seeing the film at the Museum of Modern Art. It was the first time I have ever watched a film there ( I have been to the IFC center, and Film Forum) and definitely plan on going again in the near future.

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    Andrew Livingston's Blog » The Bicycle Thief- Extra Credit Assignment (MoMA)

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