Director: Vittorio de Sica
Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani
Runtime: 93 mins
Rating: * * * * *
De Sica’s 1948 film Ladri di biciclette, is considered a masterpiece of Italian Neorealism, a movement which thrived in Italy after the Second World War. Neorealist films are usually shot on location, using non-professional actors; small scale stories featuring one man over a short period in his life.
Ladri di biciclette tells the tale of Antonio Ricci, an unemployed man living in Rome with his wife and children. Antonio is offered a job putting up Hollywood movie posters around Rome, for which the only requirement is owning a bicycle. The family are jubilant at the news, but on his first day on the job Antonio’s bike is stolen. He and his son Bruno trapse around Rome on foot in search of the stolen bike. They try the police and the church for help, but are met with disinterest and irritation; no one sees this man’s stolen bike as important enough for their time. When the father and son spot the thief in the streets, they report him to a nearby police officer but can prove nothing. Becoming ever more desperate, knowing his job depends on his bicycle, Antonio tries to steal another one in central Rome, but is caught. He escapes unpunished as the owner pities his son. Antonio and Bruno walk home through the crowd, unsuccessful.
The plot, it must be admitted, is not action-packed, but that is not exactly where the film’s power lies. Politically subtle, and personally powerful, Ladri di biciclette highlights the indifference of the world towards its poor, but manages to show some comfort in the relationship between father and son, which grows stronger as the quest for the stolen bicycle becomes more hopeless. You can sit through a ship hitting an iceberg and watch DiCaprio sink into the depths, you can sob into your popcorn as animated animals lose their parents, but there is nothing you can ever see on screen that is sadder or more heartbreaking than this man losing his bicycle.