Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette 1948)

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.
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.
"The Bicycle Thief" had such an impact on its first release that when the British film magazine Sight & Sound held its first international poll of film makers and critics in 1952, it was voted the greatest film of all time.
Bicycle Thieves 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. 


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 As a result, The Bicycle Thief works as a sentimental study of a father and son, a historical document, a social statement, and  a record of one of the century's most influential film movements.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
Neorealism, as a term, means many things, but it often refers to films of working class life, set in the culture of poverty, and with the implicit message that in a better society wealth would be more evenly distributed. "Shoeshine" told the story of two shoeshine boys sent to reform school for black-marketeering; Kael's description of it could function as a definition of the hope behind neorealism: "It is one of those rare works of art which seem to emerge from the welter of human experience without smoothing away the raw edges, or losing what most movies lose--the sense of confusion and accident in human affairs."

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