Not rated because all of the crime in the movie! Hot bicycle action! Thieves rampant! Are the criminals stealing bicycles or are the bicycles themselves actual thieves? Sentient bicycle! This movie spits at the laws of nature and sanity and makes the world's most prized possession criminal masterminds! Look how that guy has to fight off a violent bicycle attack while talking to his child! Not! Rated! (Okay, it's a perfectly fine movie to watch if you like crying.)
DIRECTOR: Vittorio De Sica
And we're back to writing about movies that I can't be objective about anymore because they are so good. This is another example of a movie I've seen so many times that it almost becomes hard to write about it. But I've written some tomes about movies that I didn't think I could get two words about, so we'll see how this plays out. (Takes a long break. Finds things to distract him.)
I have always said that I like really depressing things. I don't know if that cheapens all of the things that I enjoy because there is a lot more going on with Bicycle Thieves (Also, The Bicycle Thief? When did Criterion do a literal translation?) than simply being a depressing movie. But at the same time, it might be the most depressing movie I own. I'm going to review It Comes at Night tomorrow and that movie has a scene that is so depressing, but it is also one moment that really rides it. De Sica creates something really more interesting here that really just crescendos into a wave of necessary misery. The world of Bicycle Thieves is one that is so entrenched in the worst parts of our culture that it almost makes you rethink humanity. I try to be optimistic. I do. I want to think that we, as a people, are inherently good and there are only a few terrible people making it hard for them. I get the vibe that De Sica doesn't think this. Rather, he not only presents the opposite argument, but takes it a step further into saying that there can be innocent people, but they will eventually be corrupted by the harsh world around them. Society defends the unjust and it is those who follow the rules who hurt. In typical De Sica fashion (he tends to show society's ills while offering no solution on how to cure these ills), he does condemn his protagonist for being weak. The protagonist has the moral goal and does everything, from his perspective, that he can. When he breaks his own moral code, however, he is also punished for doing so. The movie comments on the absurdity of following a code, but also condemns those who break the code. The world is a terrible place, guys. Why do you think I like this movie so much? Am I that broken that I can't appreciate the joys of the world? I'm not always in this mood, but I coincidentally am in this mood every time I watch Bicycle Thieves.
Am I wrong, or is this the movie that kind of tortured that little kid? The kid's performance at the end of the movie is one of the most heartbreaking scenes ever. That kid is fantastic. Again, mini lesson for people who don't know much about this movie or Neorealism. Much of Italian cinema during this era cast regular people in major parts. The two leads, who play father and son, at the time were just regular Joes. But both of their performances are remarkably expressive. I'm not saying that every time a non-actor is cast in a major role, it is absolutely perfect. More often than not, it doesn't work that way. But these two guys are so good in their roles that I never am pulled out of the world of the film. I tend to get angry at that. Anything that reminds me that I'm watching a movie is a point against the film. Nothing in Bicycle Thieves does that. Rather, the movie focuses so closely on these two guys. I like to watch the movie from the perspective of Bruno, the kid. (I opened up IMDB, guys.) The movie, from Antonio's perspective is one of stress and frustration. If it was just that, the movie would still work. But adding Bruno to the story gives an even greater sense of hopelessness. Bruno looks to his father as this strong guy, a provider in the worst of circumstances. Bruno works, but he seems to idolize his dad. As the movie progresses, that faith and illusion is quickly crushed. The worst part of it is that Antonio is still the man who was idolized by his kid. The illusion, in many ways, is the sins that Antonio presents. There are theories that we present our true selves in the worst moments. Bicycle Thieves can be interpreted that way. If you read the movie that way, I don't think you are wrong by any stretch of the imagination. But what I see is that Antonio is still the same man. Perhaps he is humanized a little bit, but I see his sins as acts of desperation covered with deep shame. Even though he does something that he never really saw himself capable of doing (twice, I may add), he finds the actions revolting. I know, I know. "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." But this story is kind of a story of forgiveness, even if those words are never said. Antonio never becomes a bad guy. One of my students yelled at him and didn't want the movie to play out the way it did, but I don't think she ever hated Antonio.
There is one scene that really strikes a chord with me. I don't know if it is because this is how I see the world and it just felt real. This is going to be a real insight into a bad mood because the most effective sequence for me (outside of the slap) is the confrontation with the thief. That entire sequence bothers me in the best way possible. De Sica captures the frustration of trying to deal with the legal system and the criminal world in a way that I haven't seen portrayed since. The mix of guilt and self-doubt that comes with being in the right is so perfect in this movie. As a viewer, we all share Antonio's confidence when it comes to confronting the kid in the neighborhood. But the sheer amount of people calling him a liar and threatening to attack him does something psychologically to both the character and the viewer that creates anxiety on a level that I'm really not comfortable with. I just wanted to beg him to stay and to fight a battle that he couldn't possibly win. But I also wanted to run with him and get him out of there. Having Bruno there to see all that is even more frustrating? What if something happened to him? De Sica plays with that concept when dealing with the kid in the water. There are all these moments and the coolest part is that it all stems out of a very basic action, such as having a bicycle stolen. Perhaps that is De Sica's greatest triumph. He takes something that should almost be a non plot and gets every last drop out of it. It is kind of the opposite of Your Name. (I'm going to to be the only person in history to make that connection.) Your Name is about covering a wealth of material without ever really going deep into any of them. De Sica in Bicycle Thieves takes barely a moment in any other story and manages to extract so much from that. It's such a simply concept! It shouldn't work. It totally does! This movie destroys me. I am but ash.
This might be one of my favorite movies. I can talk about it all day and I can't really communicate why this movie works so much. There is something beautiful and humbling about the entire experience. This is the movie where students get a gutteral reaction. The movie speaks to the soul without ever pandering. It presents this world of darkness, yet never feels like a dark movie. It shows hope through the veil of sadness. I'm getting overly poetic, but that is almost the movie. I'm not alone on this. I'm not preaching a movie that people haven't heard of. There is a reason that this movie is a classic. I'll probably watch this movie at least a dozen more times before I die. It is so good and it never really falters.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.