The Bicycle Thief movie review (1949)

A
little later, to his astonishment, Ricci spots the bicycle thief, and pursues
him into a brothel. An ugly crowd gathers. A cop arrives, but can do nothing,
because there is no evidence and only Ricci as witness. And then, in the famous
closing sequence of the movie, Ricci is tempted to steal a bicycle himself,
continuing the cycle of theft and poverty.

This
story is so direct it plays more like a parable than a drama. At the time it
was released, it was seen as a Marxist fable (Zavattini was a member of the
Italian communist party). Later, the leftist writer Joel Kanoff criticized the
ending as “sublimely Chaplinesque but insufficiently socially
critical.” David Thomson found the story too contrived, and wrote,
“the more one sees ‘Bicycle Thief,’ the duller the man becomes and the
more poetic and accomplished De Sica’s urban photography seems.”

True,
Ricci is a character entirely driven by class and economic need. There isn’t a
lot else to him, although he comes alive in the pizzeria scene. True, the movie
doesn’t make a point of contrasting his poverty with high-living millionaires
(wealth is illustrated as the ability to buy a plate of spaghetti). But if the
film is allowed to wait long enough–until the filmmakers are dead, until
neorealism is less an inspiration than a memory–“The Bicycle Thief”
escapes from its critics and becomes, once again, a story. It is happiest that
way.

And
its influence isn’t entirely in the past. One of the 1999 Oscar nominees for
best foreign film is “Children of Heaven,” from Iran, about a boy who
loses his sister’s shoes. In it there is a lovely passage where the father
lifts his boy onto the crossbar of his bicycle and pedals to a rich
neighborhood, looking for work. The sequence resonates for anyone who has seen
“The Bicycle Thief.” Such films stand outside time. A man loves his
family and wants to protect and support them. Society makes it difficult. Who
cannot identify with that?

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