Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Ladri di Biciclette

This landmark Italian neorealist drama became one of the best-known and most widely acclaimed European movies, including a special Academy Award as "most outstanding foreign film" seven years before that Oscar category existed. Written primarily by neorealist pioneer Cesare Zavattini and directed by Vittorio DeSica, also one of the movement's main forces, the movie featured all the hallmarks of the neorealist style: a simple story about the lives of ordinary people, outdoor shooting and lighting, non-actors mixed together with actors, and a focus on social problems in the aftermath of World War II. Lamberto Maggiorani plays Antonio, an unemployed man who finds a coveted job that requires a bicycle. When it is stolen on his first day of work, Antonio and his young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) begin a frantic search, learning valuable lessons along the way. The movie focuses on both the relationship between the father and the son and the larger framework of poverty and unemployment in postwar Italy. As in such other classic films as Shoeshine (1946), Umberto D. (1952), and his late masterpiece The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971), DeSica focuses on the ordinary details of ordinary lives as a way to dramatize wider social issues. As a result, The Bicycle Thief works as a sentimental study of a father and son, a historical document, a social statement, and  a record of one of the century's most influential film movements. 
~ Leo Charney, Rovi

This utterly simple, ultra-humanistic melodrama centers on an unemployed laborer, Antonio, and his young son, Bruno, in war devastated Rome. The father finds a job pasting up posters, a job that requires a bicycle. When the bicycle is stolen, it leads to tragic and ironic ending. Panic-stricken at being unable to recover his bicycle, and losing his means of employment, the father is compelled to steal another bicycle, only to be caught and humiliated in front of his son.

Considered to be one of the most influential films in history, "The Bicycle Thief" is effective as both a topical work, reflecting the living conditions at the time, and an allegory about the human condition and need for dignity and self worth.

Contrasting Italy's two great masters, the late French critic Andre Bazin said, "Rossellini's style is a way of seeing, while De Sica's is primarily a way of feeling."  He was one of those directors "whose entire talent derives from the love they have for their subject, from their ultimate understanding of it."
It's worth noting that the Production Code Administration (PCA) objected to two of the film's crucial scenes, one set in a brothel, and the other depicting a boy urinating on the street.

The playwright Arthur Miller once described this masterpiece, "It is as though the soul of man had been filmed."   And, indeed, De Sica's characters often seem to be lit from within by the tenderness the directors feels for each one of them.

Emanuel Levy