July 06, 2011
Brief Notes on 'The Bicycle Thief'
Last week a group of us (@michelmcbride, @selmaleh, @melissa_mullen, and @lessthankyle) banded together for a Netflix party to watch Vittorio de Sica's 1948 classic, The Bicycle Thief. I made a few notes to set the film in its historic context, which I reproduce for you here.
'The Bicycle Thief' (also known as 'The Bicycle Thieves') came along at a particular point in Italy's cinematic history. Prior to and during the war, the Fascists invested heavily in cinema, developing a skilled group of craftsman as directors, screenwriters, and cinematographers in particular.
But the Fascist cinema was very different in kind from what would develop after the war in Italian neo-realism, of which 'The Bicycle Thief' is perhaps the finest example. Neo-realism was developed by a scriptwriter named Zavattini, who would work closely with de Sica on this and several other films. Neo-realism reacted to the films of the Fascists by turning away from heroic epic stories which reflected the cult of personality which began with Mussolini and carried on down, in favor of smaller stories about real people, set against real locations with ambient sound. The Bicycle Thief exemplifies these ideals, presenting a multi-layered story playing out with non-actors on the streets of Rome.
Italian neo-realism had a brief day in the sun, as it were, lasting no longer than a decade really. However, if you enjoy this film, here are a few others to consider: Rossellini's Obsession and Rome, Open City; de Sica's Umberto D.; and Visconti's The Earth Trembles.
I am currently vacationing in France but will return next week to view Jean-Luc Godard's 1960 classic, Breathless, schedule (and jet-laggedness) permitting. Just send a Twitter message my way Tuesday or so.