Manual Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) (BFI Film Classics)

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It has no affinity with the superfluous and the merely spectacular, which it refuses, but is attracted to the concrete. It refuses recipes and formulas.

Roberto Rossellini in Retrospective , April , reprinted in Overby Instead of a scriptwriter suggesting a story, which is then constructed in cinematic time and space in such a way as to suggest the realism of the event, Rossellini proposes to literally make films out of the reality he finds. Eventually, this would lead Rossellini to making a film like Viaggio in Italia in which he made up the script as he went along.

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A woman goes into a shop to buy a pair of shoes. The shoes cost 7, lire. The woman tries to bargain. The scene lasts perhaps two minutes, but I must make a two-hour film. What do I do?

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The fact creates its own fiction. Quoted in Williams Zavattini is a scriptwriter rather than a director so his aim is to present a story to the director. In the case of Bicycle Thieves , the original story idea in fact came from a novel. He then took it to De Sica who had been searching for:. De Sica , reprinted in Overby Thanks to the camera, the cinema has the means to capture that dimension.

That is how I understand realism, which cannot be, in my opinion, mere documentation. If there is absurdity in this theory, it is the absurdity of those social contradictions which society wants to ignore. It is the absurdity of incomprehension through which it is difficult for truth and good to penetrate. Thus, my film is dedicated to the suffering of the humble. The film does reveal ordinary lives in the face of official indifference and the audience cares about Antonio, Bruno and Maria. Even so it is a film that entertains its audience with the ordinary adventures of father and son.

Later he would make films that simply set out to be entertaining. De Sica read thirty or forty scripts after finishing Shoeshine before Zavattini appeared with Bicycle Thieves and he spent a long time casting the film and preparing the shoot. The print of the film currently on video release is of a high quality and a long way removed from the grainy look of Roma — citta aperta , the film Rossellini made using filmstock scavenged from whatever source he could find.

Representing social issues Whatever manifesto statements we accept for neo-realism e. Zavattini or Rossellini , the central feature of all the narratives is their engagement with the social issues of the time. Bicycle Thieves concerns unemployment and labour control.

Umberto D is about a pensioner whose savings have disappeared, Shoeshine features child workers on the streets. Other films concerned themselves with rural problems. The poverty of the Roman working-class is shown in Bicycle Thieves when Antonio and his wife pledge their bed linen and redeem his bicycle. Antonio looks through the hatch to see the bed linen being stored alongside hundreds of similar parcels.

These were views of Italy that the right-wing political parties did not wish to see on Italian screens. The popular audience was interested in films about these issues up to a point — some films, like Bicycle Thieves , were good box office, even if they struggled to get a decent release in cinemas. However, it appears that by the popular audience had moved on to more escapist fare. Certainly, a handful of neo-realist films were enthusiastically received in Paris, London and New York much as Iranian Cinema is received now, but on a greater scale.

It often took a year or two for the films to travel to the UK and Bicycle Thieves opened at the Curzon in Mayfair in Bicycle Thieves succeeded as a humanist film.


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Nothing matched the character driven account of the everyday presented in Bicycle Thieves. The neo-realist aesthetic and Bicycle Thieves The two main aesthetic features of the film are the location shooting and the acting performances. Both are remarkable and are linked through the difficulty of directing non-professionals in scenes requiring complex movements.

Even in contemporary films shot on location, it is not unusual to get the feeling that when the action switches to a new location, the actors have started moving just a few seconds earlier — in other words, the street is just a location for the story. But in Bicycle Thieves , we get the impression that action is going on whether the camera is running or not. The camera is selecting from life on the street, not simply imposing a story on a backdrop. Mary Wood quotes the example of the scene when Antonio is being shown how to paste up his first poster.

The camera not only allows us to see Rome getting on with its business in the background, but also to follow the boys and the man they beg from, panning away from Antonio and the pasting. We hear Antonio and his trainer off screen, but watch the boys. All this helps set up the theft of the bicycle. The theft is shot from a similar angle and we are acutely aware of the dangers on the street which might affect Antonio. The camerawork shows the main features of neo-realist shooting with more long shots than similar Hollywood films, allowing more portrayal of the characters as part of the background.

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Deep focus is used without the expressionist style shown in films like Citizen Kane and tracking shots with relatively long takes emphasise the continuous narrative space of the action. In Roma — citta aperta , Rossellini converted a building into a crude studio to shoot interiors. All the main actors are non-professionals, Antonio being played by a factory worker. Dubbing later became a standard feature of Italian cinema, proving especially useful when European co-productions brought many different language speakers together in Italian films.

The big advantage for neo-realism was that the camera could be moved freely on location without the encumbrance of sound recording. The scenes between father and son are particularly convincing. The meaning of the film The best two guides to the meaning of the film are probably Bazin and Sorlin. By this he means that the social message of the film is not explicitly stated.

Instead, it simply arises out of the story — the poor will steal from the poor in order to survive. De Sica shows the differences between rich and poor in the restaurant and satirises the charity and the authoritarianism of the church and the ineffectiveness of the police in helping Antonio. The pairing of father and son is crucial. Visually, the tall man and the small boy make more interesting protagonists than the man alone. Sorlin is more interested in the sociological messages of the film.

This supports the view that Antonio may be an immigrant. He is clearly uneasy venturing into central Rome and is unable to break down the solidarity of the community which protects the thieves. But, as Sorlin points out, Antonio is the future — men like him will create the new Italy in the s. Crucially important was the timing. All film industries post were struggling to come to terms with new circumstances. The immediate impact of neo-realism was on critics and filmmakers in Britain, America and France.

But the immediate impact in the s and s was on the emerging cinemas in Africa and on more socially committed filmmakers in India e. For twenty years or more neo-realism was an inspiration for low-budget filmmakers with some form of social agenda and it became the dominant aesthetic of the international film festival circuit.

They had changed as people and as filmmakers, and they did want to create something new. But it is important to recognise that the roots of neo-realism were laid in the s and that Visconti, Rossellini and De Sica had all made films before that show the developing signs of the neo-realist approach. De Sica had also appeared in a series of films by director Mario Camerini. The triumph of Bicycle Thieves is that they become an integral part of the story such as the priest hitting the surprised Bruno on the head when he peers into the confessional. This film would make an excellent comparison with Bicycle Thieves , in both subject matter and visual style.

Loach is a confessed neo-realist admirer. In Not One Less , a more unlikely director, Zhang Yimou best known for sumptuous melodramas tells the story of a mountain village girl who is put in charge of the school when the teacher has to visit a dying relative. She will only be paid if the children keep attending. An earlier Zhang Yimou film, The Story of Qiu Ju sees Gong Li, the glamorous star of earlier melodramas, playing a pregnant peasant woman whose husband is injured by a kick from the village chief. She demands justice and pursues her case through each level of bureaucracy up towards the Communist Party hierarchy.

De Sica claims that this did in fact happen and that a sizeable budget would have been available, had he been prepared to cast Cary Grant as Antonio. For me, it is as unbearable as any horror film. Antonio Lamberto Maggiorani is a poor man who is thrilled when he is at last offered a job: delivering and putting up movie posters. But he needs a bicycle, and must supply his own, so his wife Maria Lianella Carelli pawns the family's entire stock of bed linen to redeem the bicycle he had already hocked. On his first day at work, the unlocked machine is stolen and Antonio drops everything to go on a desperate odyssey through the streets of Rome with his little boy Bruno Enzo Staiola to get his bike back, pleading and accusing and uncovering scenes of poverty similar to theirs wherever they go.

They create uproar in classic crowd moments: in the streets, in a market, in a church mass. Faces always gather avidly around the pair, all commenting, complaining and generally magnifying the father and son's distress and mortification. This is a story that magnificently withholds the comic or dramatic palliatives another sort of film might have introduced. Antonio and Bruno are a world away from Chaplin and his Kid. The son is the intimate witness of the father's humiliation, his inadequacy as a provider.

The scenes at the beginning of the film, when Antonio casually leaves his bicycle unlocked but it remains for the moment miraculously unstolen, have to be watched through your fingers. Antonio seems unable or unwilling to embrace the obvious redemptive moral - that his son is the important possession, not the wretched bicycle - and De Sica is unwilling to embrace it either, perhaps precisely because it is too obvious, or because this moral is a luxury that only well-off people can afford.

The father is obsessed with finding a stolen needle in the urban haystack, obsessed with getting his job back. Again and again, he ignores his little boy while scanning the horizon for his bicycle. At one stage, he hears an uproar from the riverbank about a "drowned boy".