Daily Recco, June 3: The ride of your life with Bicycle Thieves
On World Bicycle Day, watch Bicycle Thieves - the brilliant film that defined Italian neorealist cinema.
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It is World Bicycle Day today. While most of us have childhood memories intricately intertwined with our cycles, there are stories of those for whom bicycle went beyond a joyride. The versatile vehicle was more than just a means of transport in the past and defined one’s life and livelihood.
But what happens if your cycle is stolen? Most of us would lodge a complaint, wait for cops to act and in case that proves futile, we buy ourselves a new one. But that was not an option for the people in the post-World War II era. And neorealism in European cinema ensured we got more than a glimpse of what that was like.
One such film is Bicycle Thieves (1948). It is a brilliant and tactlessly real piece of art that truly defines Italian neorealist cinema. Originally an Italian film — Ladri di biciclette — directed by Vittorio De Sica, the film is considered one of the most influential films in the history of cinema. It bagged the Academy Honorary Award for the most outstanding foreign language film in 1950. Two years later, in 1952, it was deemed the greatest film of all time by the British magazine Sight & Sound's poll of filmmakers and critics. In a poll by the same magazine, half a century thence, in 2002, the film ranked sixth among the greatest-ever films.
The storyline is fairly simple (and tragic) — a poor breadwinner is searching for his stolen bicycle in post-war Rome. The bicycle was bought after selling his wife's dowry and is stolen on the first day at work. The protagonist Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) stands to lose his job of delivering and putting up movie posters if the bicycle is not found. And he desperately needs his job to feed his young family.
The story revolves around how Antonio and his young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) go on a desperate search through the streets of Rome. It is an acute depiction of poverty in post-war Rome. On their hunt for the missing bicycle, Antonio and Bruno learn many lessons that life has to teach. The plucky Bruno is an intimate witness to his father’s humiliation as he pleads, accuses, gets accused and disgraced.
Bicycle Thieves hinges on Enzo Staiola's compelling screen presence and performance as Bruno. The bicycle here serves as a medium to narrate the astringent saga of poverty, corruption, desperation, despondence and dignity in the post-war world.
As you decide to dust your cycle and embark on a joyride the next time, remind yourself of your privilege of using it for your health and happiness. You can watch Bicycle Thieves on Amazon Prime Video.