Bicycle Thieves Blu-ray Review

     Actors: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola
  • Director: Vittorio De Sica
  • Format: Restored, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Italian
  • Subtitles: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Studio: Criterion Collection (Direct)
  • Release Date: March 29, 2016
  • Run Time: 89 minutes



            The approach to cinema as an art form has been divisive from the very beginning, as the Lumiére brother made films ground in documentary-style realism while George Méliès would trail blaze the formalist approach shortly after. Another such moment of stylistic crossroads in film history came with the formalism of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) followed by the Italian neorealist approach taken by Vittorio De Sica in Bicycle Thieves (1948). With non-professional actors, natural lighting, and the use of real locations in post-WWII Italy, Bicycle Thieves remains an icon for realism in cinema, regardless of narrative.


             The story itself is fittingly simplistic, and all the more heartbreaking because of the focus on characters over narrative. A man named Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) is fortunate enough to be among the very few to find a job placing advertisements in the recovering streets of post-war Rome, with the only requirement being a bicycle to transport him around town. Though this seems like a fairly innocuous requirement, Antonio’s bike has been pawned and his wife (Lianella Carell) is forced to sell their sheets in order to get the money for the bicycle. We quickly get an understanding of the importance of this job and the bicycle required for it, which is what makes its theft so devastating.


            When Antonio’s bike is stolen right in front of him and the police are no help in getting it back, he sets out on a mission across Rome to find the thieves, with his young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) trailing behind him. It is storytelling on the smallest scale, especially considering the mass crowds we see within the film. With the many stories occurring within the busy streets of Rome, a man searching for a stolen bicycle with his young child seems that much more insignificant, though our time spent with Antonio and Bruno causes us to care about the resolution just the same.


            If you look at Bicycle Thieves as a film about the search for a stolen bicycle, it has a devastatingly bleak ending that feels unjust. On the other hand, if the relationship between father and son is treated as the most significant element of the narrative, there is a great deal more hope in the final frames of the film. Knowing that De Sica was greatly influenced by Charlie Chaplin also helps to understand the direction of these final moments. Although it is missing the slapstick humor that Chaplin’s films were known for, there is a similar melancholic optimism in the way it becomes a film about relationships rather than material possessions. And despite being played by non-professionals, these characters are so well embodied by the actors that their performances feel wholly sincere, adding even more poignancy to the melodrama.


            The Blu-ray release features a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack with much of the static removed. The special features include the featurette “Working with De Sica,” which has interviews with screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico, actor Enzo Staiola, and film scholar Callisto Cosulich. There is also a documentary from 2003 on screenwriter and De Sica collaborator, Cesar Zavattini, as well as a television program on the history of Italian neorealism. The booklet insert also has an essay by critic Godfrey Cheshire and brief recollections on the filming by key cast and crew members, including Sergio Leone, who was given a bit part in the cast while working for free as a crew member.  


    Entertainment Value: 7/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 9.5/10

    Historical Significance:  10/10

    Special Features: 8.5/10

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