I went to Rome was six years ago. That would have been around 50 years after Bicycle Thieves and most wouldn’t presume your average city to still be recognisable. But Rome isn’t your average city. Considering many of Rome’s buildings are hundreds, thousands of years old… I would expect a little comparability. A hint of a feeling that tells me this is the same city I grew to love walking through it’s famed cobbled streets. Only a mere six years previously. But the world that the classic and highly regarded Bicycle Thieves introduces you to isn’t the ancient world I had witnessed.
Our main man, Antonio Ricci, lives on the outskirts of town in an estate. If you’d call it that. It reminded me of built up apartments in rough areas or urban cities as exhibited in La Haine (1995) and Fish Tank (2009). The mid-sized tower blocks were stripped of any detail. Any design that I had known of Roman buildings. This is not the glamorized Rome I was objected to. It is not a fantasy. This is post world war II Rome and a far cry from birthing the modern world.
Ricci is an average, Roman man. He lives with his wife and young children. His son Bruno follows him everywhere he goes. And he joins hundreds of men back from war looking for work. When he is offered a job that requires a bike, his wife reluctantly but promptly pawns the family’s bed sheets to pay for one. So, how far do you have to have fallen if your bed sheets are your most prized possession?
What goes up must come down
It’s only when newly employed, with the support of his wife, Antonio rides his new bike into the city for work. The landscape this time is as familiar and majestic as I remembered. However, it isn’t long before his bike is stolen (saw that one coming) and he begins his frivolous quest to retrieve his bicycle. His livelihood, his last glimmer of hope. The city becomes overrun with pedestrians and the sheer scale of the eternal city dwarfs him.
The score in Bicycle Thieves is almost constant. Like, Italian cinema hadn’t quite realised that with the invention of sound and dialogue in cinema, this means cutting back on the music somewhat. Sometimes I watched the film and concluded that the score gave more emotion, tension and insight into what was happening in a scene than the English subtitles did at the bottom of the screen. Although, other times it serves no purpose than to remind me we are in Italy since there is the absence of homely pizzerias and Catholic houses of worship.
There are very few cuts in Bicycle Thieves. Instead, the cinematography moves when the characters move and pauses when they pause. Medium close ups are the norm as we observe more than one character within the frame instead of Hollywood’s trusty reverse cuts. Even the few close ups that are in the film often squeeze in more than one person.
I don’t know how you read this, but to me it was very clear that the director wanted the audience to understand that Antonio’s struggle was a common struggle. Men and women were put into positions they never thought they would end up in. And forced to make decisions they never thought they would make. The war was the enemy. And all of the people who had to live through it and build up their lives after it were the inevitable victims.
Have you ever watched Bicycle Thieves? What did you think of it?