Bicycle Thieves, without question, both deserves to be on this list as much as it deserves to be much higher on it. The critics rank it at thirty-three, which seems to be low. Unlike with some of the other films, I went into the viewing with zero preconceived notions and left with a film overtaking some of the movies in my own personal list of favorites.
The title doesn’t lie, as this is a story about a man who is the victim of theft. In post-war Italy where jobs are scarce, his family is forced to make miserable decisions in order to survive. By the luck of the draw, Antonio Ricci – masterfully portrayed by Lamberto Maggiorani – is given a job as a poster hanger. The only caveat is that he must have a bicycle. His problem is that he and his wife, Maria (Lianella Carell), recently pawned the bicycle.
With little choice, Maria pulls the used linens off their bed and gathers the few new ones they have set aside, and the two of them head out to the pawnbroker to hopefully get enough money to pay off the loan on the bicycle so Antonio can go to work. There is a brief moment during that scene in which director Vittorio De Sica takes the view behind the broker’s window into a storehouse packed with bags of bed sheets to really illustrate the stressful times that the people of Rome were living in. It’s a subtle five-second reminder of post-war Rome, and really even now, the everyday life of people living in poverty, doing everything they can to try and keep their head above water.
The next day Antonio goes off to his new job hanging posters. He is giving very brief training and sent out on his own. At the second jobsite shown, while he is up on his ladder, a man in a German hat quickly makes off with Antonio’s bicycle. The chase is short: an accomplice misdirects a driver and they lose the thief. The remainder of the film is comprised of Antonio, Bruno (his son), and some of Antonio’s friends looking through the city for either the bicycle, its parts, or that specific man.
It is difficult for me to pin down exactly why this film touched me so much. It was beautifully photographed and very well acted, and yet it was a simple picture. It may sound blasé to say but this is the first non-documentary film from this list that really resonated with me. I have undoubtedly learned from the other movies, but this one leaves me wanting to be a better person – a rare trait that serves as a better take-away than a paltry storytelling lesson. My hope, when all is said and done, is that I when I complete this journey, it will leave me a noticeably different man. That, I guess, is why this work of art touched me so deeply.