It's such a simple setup. A poor man who is out of work gets offered a job (a good city job) putting up posters. He's overjoyed by the opportunity, but there's a catch. He must have a bike or the job goes to someone else. What can he do? He lies and says he has one. It's so stripped down and elegant as a narrative design. And the conflict happens within the first few minutes of the film too, which is both economical and great craftsmanship. One of my big pet peeves is movies that take too long to set up characters and situations. I get that you sometimes want your audience to know the people that are inhabiting the world of the film before they are thrust into some dramatic scenario, but there are ways to move things along more quickly and still achieve the desired effect. So BICYCLE THIEVES establishes right away the importance of the bike. We know the main character needs one badly and that his job depends oh him keeping it. As you might guess from the title of the film, bicycles can be tricky to hold onto in the city of Rome where our main character works.
This movie has a reputation as being one of the greatest films ever made. Woody Allen is a big fan and has made reference to it in his films. It's even a ploy point in Robert Altman's film THE PLAYER. There's a lot for this film to live up to and perhaps partially because of all that, I had somehow neglected to see it all these years. Pretty shameful right? I agree. Thankfully, when this Blu-Ray was announced I knew I would finally make time to watch it. How was it you ask? Well, another thing you hear about this film is that it is quite depressing. Done call it heartbreaking, which is more apt, but it's no feel good movie in case you were wondering. That said it is ultimately a really engaging and powerful piece of cinema. A big chunk of the movie is just the man and his son wandering around Rome looking for his bicycle. But BICYCLE THIEVES is so much more compelling than that description would have you believe. So many excellent touches. Like The Rita Hayworth posters they are tasked with putting up. And something as basic as the way the little boy stretches the cheese from his mozzarella sandwich can be absolutely sublime. The drama of trying desperately to find the only old man who knows anything about the thief they stole the man's bike is remarkable. It's one of those movies that, once you're in it, wrings narrative tension out of the tiniest things. As I said, so simple and yet so poetic and beautiful in the way that it tells the tale that you can see why the film is held in such high regard.
One thing I do love is that I can draw a line between this movie and one of my favorites: PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE. While the two films couldn't tonally be more far apart, they are both stories about dude's with lost bikes. This may be a bit of a stretch for me to compare the two, and perhaps I just have Pee-Wee on the brain (which I certainly do), but I definitely feel like I saw at least a couple shots here that might have been lifted by Burton for BIG ADVENTURE. Good stuff. The two movies might even make an interesting double feature. PEE-WEE'S would make for a decent pick me up after the emotional devastation of BICYCLE THIEVES.
First off, this is a New digital restoration (4K for the Blu-ray), with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on this Blu-ray. It's a pretty gorgeous transfer if I do say so myself.
-Working with De Sica, a collection of interviews with screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico, actor Enzo Staiola, and film scholar Callisto Cosulich.
-Life as It Is, a program on the history of Italian neorealism, featuring scholar Mark Shiel.
-A Documentary from 2003 on screenwriter and longtime Vittorio De Sica collaborator Cesare Zavattini, directed by Carlo Lizzani.
-Optional English-dubbed soundtrack.
-PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Godfrey Cheshire and reminiscences by De Sica and his collaborators.
The BICYCLE THIEVES Blu-ray can be purchased via Amazon here: