|Italian||Ladri di biciclette|
|Directed by||Vittorio De Sica|
|Story by||Cesare Zavattini|
|Based on||Bicycle Thieves|
by Luigi Bartolini
|Edited by||Eraldo Da Roma|
|Music by||Alessandro Cicognini|
Produzioni De Sica
|Distributed by||Ente Nazionale Industrie Cinematografiche|
Bicycle Thieves (Italian: Ladri di biciclette), also known as The Bicycle Thief is a 1948 Italian neorealist drama film directed by Vittorio De Sica. It follows the story of a poor father searching in post-World War II Rome for his stolen bicycle, without which he will lose the job which was to be the salvation of his young family.
Adapted for the screen by Cesare Zavattini from the 1946 novel by Luigi Bartolini, and starring Lamberto Maggiorani as the desperate father and Enzo Staiola as his plucky young son, Bicycle Thieves received an Academy Honorary Award (most outstanding foreign language film) in 1950, and in 1952 was deemed the greatest film of all time by Sight & Sound magazine's poll of filmmakers and critics; fifty years later another poll organized by the same magazine ranked it sixth among the greatest-ever films. In the 2012 version of the list the film ranked 33rd among critics and 10th among directors.
The film was also cited by Turner Classic Movies as one of the most influential films in cinema history, and it is considered part of the canon of classic cinema. In 1958, the film was voted number 3 on the prestigious Brussels 12 list at the 1958 World Expo, and number 4 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010. It was also included on the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage’s 100 Italian films to be saved, a list of 100 films that "have changed the collective memory of the country between 1942 and 1978."
In post-World War II Rome, Antonio Ricci, an unemployed man, is offered work pasting advertising bills. The job requires Antonio to own a bicycle, which is impounded at a mount of piety. His wife Maria is forced to pawn her dowry bedsheets to redeem the bicycle. On Antonio's first day of the job, while he is trying to paste a film poster, his bicycle is stolen. After Antonio unsuccessfully pursues the thief, he reports the theft to the police, but realizes that they will not help with such a small and common theft.
Returning home embittered, Antonio understands that his only option is to search for the bicycle himself. He asks for help from a political comrade, who in turn mobilizes his waste collector colleagues. At dawn, they and Antonio's son Bruno go to search for the bicycle at markets where stolen goods are often resold. At the Piazza Vittorio market, they find a bicycle frame, but the serial number does not match. At the Porta Portese market, Antonio spots the thief in the company of an old tramp, but the thief eludes him and the tramp feigns ignorance. Antonio follows the tramp into a soup kitchen, but the tramp takes advantage of a distraction and slips away. A hopeless Antonio turns to a supposed "holy woman", but her sibylline response is almost a joke.
Immediately afterward, Antonio encounters the thief by chance in a disreputable district, but the denizens firmly defend the thief and threaten Antonio. A policeman Antonio turns to can do nothing about the culprit, as there is no concrete evidence of his crime. Overwhelmed and fatigued, Antonio and Bruno await a tram ride home. Antonio notices an unattended bicycle and, in desperation, clumsily attempts to steal it, but is immediately stopped and attacked by bystanders. The bicycle's owner, after seeing Bruno's tears, takes pity on Antonio and has him released. Bruno takes Antonio's hand and the two walk away into the crowd as evening descends on Rome.
The bike redeemed from the pawn shop
First day on the job
In search of the stolen bike
The thief's neighbors threaten Antonio
All seems lost
Bicycle Thieves is the best-known work of Italian neorealism, the movement that formally began with Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City (1945) and aimed to give cinema a new degree of realism. De Sica had just made Shoeshine (1946), but was unable to get financial backing from any major studio for the film, so he raised the money himself from friends. Wanting to portray the poverty and unemployment of post-war Italy, he co-wrote a script with Cesare Zavattini and others using only the title and few plot devices of a little-known novel of the time by poet and artist Luigi Bartolini. Following the precepts of neorealism, De Sica shot only on location (that is, no studio sets) and cast only untrained actors. (Lamberto Maggiorani, for example, was a factory worker.) That some actors' roles paralleled their lives off screen added realism to the film. De Sica cast Maggiorani when he had brought his young son to an audition for the film. He later cast the 8-year-old Enzo Staiola when he noticed the young boy watching the film's production on a street while helping his father sell flowers. The film's final shot of Antonio and Bruno walking away from the camera into the distance is an homage to many of the films of Charlie Chaplin, who was De Sica's favourite filmmaker.
Uncovering the drama in everyday life, the wonderful in the daily news.— Vittorio De Sica in Abbiamo domandato a De Sica perché fa un film dal Ladro di biciclette (We asked De Sica why he makes a movie on the Bicycle Thief) – La fiera letteraria, 6/2/48
The original Italian title is Ladri di biciclette. It literally translates into English as "thieves of bicycles"; both ladri and biciclette are plural. In Bartolini's novel, the title referred to a post-war culture of rampant thievery and disrespect for civil order, countered only by an inept police force and indifferent allied occupiers.
When the film was screened in the United States in 1949, Bosley Crowther referred to it as The Bicycle Thief in his review in The New York Times, and this came to be the title by which the film was known in English. When the film was re-released in the late-1990s, San Francisco Chronicle film critic Bob Graham said that he preferred that version, stating, "Purists have criticized the English title of the film as a poor translation of the Italian ladri, which is plural. What blindness! The Bicycle Thief is one of those wonderful titles whose power does not sink in until the film is over". The 2007 Criterion Collection release in North America uses the title Bicycle Thieves.
When Bicycle Thieves was released in Italy, it was viewed with hostility and as portraying Italians in a negative way. Italian critic Guido Aristarco praised it, but also complained that "sentimentality might at times take the place of artistic emotion." Fellow Italian neorealist film director Luchino Visconti criticized the film, saying that it was a mistake to use a professional actor to dub over Lamberto Maggiorani's dialogue. Luigi Bartolini, the author of the novel from which de Sica drew his title, was highly critical of the film, feeling that the spirit of his book had been thoroughly betrayed because his protagonist was a middle-class intellectual and his theme was the breakdown of civil order.
Contemporary reviews elsewhere were positive. Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, lauded the film and its message in his review. He wrote, "Again the Italians have sent us a brilliant and devastating film in Vittorio De Sica's rueful drama of modern city life, The Bicycle Thief. Widely and fervently heralded by those who had seen it abroad (where it already has won several prizes at various film festivals), this heart-tearing picture of frustration, which came to [the World Theater] yesterday, bids fair to fulfill all the forecasts of its absolute triumph over here. For once more the talented De Sica, who gave us the shattering Shoeshine, that desperately tragic demonstration of juvenile corruption in post-war Rome, has laid hold upon and sharply imaged in simple and realistic terms a major—indeed, a fundamental and universal—dramatic theme. It is the isolation and loneliness of the little man in this complex social world that is ironically blessed with institutions to comfort and protect mankind". Pierre Leprohon wrote in Cinéma D'Aujourd that "what must not be ignored on the social level is that the character is shown not at the beginning of a crisis but at its outcome. One need only to look at his face, his uncertain gait, his hesitant or fearful attitudes to understand that Ricci is already a victim, a diminished man who has lost his confidence." Then Paris-based Lotte H. Eisner called it the best Italian film since World War II, and UK critic Robert Winnington called it "the most successful record of any foreign film in British cinema."
When the film was re-released in the late 1990s Bob Graham, staff film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, gave the drama a positive review: "The roles are played by non-actors, Lamberto Maggiorani as the father and Enzo Staiola as the solemn boy, who sometimes appears to be a miniature man. They bring a grave dignity to De Sica's unblinking view of post-war Italy. The wheel of life turns and grinds people down; the man who was riding high in the morning is brought low by nightfall. It is impossible to imagine this story in any other form than De Sica's. The new black-and-white print has an extraordinary range of grey tones that get darker as life closes in". In 1999, Chicago Sun-Times film reviewer Roger Ebert wrote that "The Bicycle Thief is so well-entrenched as an official masterpiece that it is a little startling to visit it again after many years and realize that it is still alive and has strength and freshness. Given an honorary Oscar in 1949, routinely voted one of the greatest films of all time, revered as one of the foundation stones of Italian neorealism, it is a simple, powerful film about a man who needs a job". Ebert added the film to his "The Great Movies" list. In 2020, A. O. Scott praised the film in an essay entitled "Why You Should Still Care About 'Bicycle Thieves'."
Bicycle Thieves is a fixture on the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound critics' and directors' polls of the greatest films ever made. The film ranked 1st and 7th on critics' poll in 1952 and 1962 respectively. It ranked 11th on the magazine's 1992 Critics' poll, 45th in 2002 Critics' Poll and 6th on the 2002 Directors' Top Ten Poll. It was slightly lower in the 2012 directors' poll, 10th and 33rd on the 2012 critics' poll. The Village Voice ranked the film at number 37 in its Top 250 "Best Films of the Century" list in 1999, based on a poll of critics. The film was voted at No. 99 on the list of "100 Greatest Films" by the prominent French magazine Cahiers du cinéma in 2008.
Bicycle Thieves has continued to gain very high praise from contemporary critics, with the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reporting 99% of 67 reviews as of April 2022 as positive, with an average rating of 9.20/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "An Italian neorealism exemplar, Bicycle Thieves thrives on its non-flashy performances and searing emotion."
Many directors have cited the film as a major influence including Satyajit Ray, Ken Loach, Giorgio Mangiamele, Bimal Roy, Anurag Kashyap, Balu Mahendra, Vetrimaaran and Basu Chatterjee.
Filipino action star Nelson Anderson said it was the favorite Italian neorealist film of his contemporary Weng Weng, who cried upon his first viewing in the early 1980s. In a project that never materialized, they intended to depart from their usual fare by remaking it as an action-comedy with a human touch.
The film features in the 1992 Robert Altman film The Player. In this film Griffin Mill (played by Tim Robbins), a Hollywood studio executive, tracks screenwriter David Kahane (played by Vincent D'Onofrio) to a screening of Bicycle Thieves, and stages what he represents as a chance meeting with Kahane.
- Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland: Special Prize of the Jury, Vittorio De Sica; 1949.
- National Board of Review: NBR Award, Best Director, Vittorio De Sica; Best Film (Any Language), Italy; 1949.
- New York Film Critics Circle Awards: NYFCC Award, Best Foreign Language Film, Italy; 1949.
- Academy Awards: Honorary Award, as The Bicycle Thief (Italy). Voted by the Academy Board of Governors as the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1949; 1950.
- Academy Awards: Nominated, Oscar, Best Writing, Screenplay; as The Bicycle Thief, Cesare Zavattini; 1950.
- British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA Film Award, Best Film from any Source; 1950.
- Bodil Awards, Copenhagen, Denmark: Bodil, Best European Film (Bedste europæiske film), Vittorio De Sica; 1950.
- Golden Globes: Golden Globe, Best Foreign Film, Italy; 1950.
- Cinema Writers Circle Awards, Spain: CEC Award, Best Foreign Film (Mejor Película Extranjera), Italy; 1951.
- Kinema Junpo Awards, Tokyo, Japan: Kinema Junpo Award, Best Foreign Language Film, Vittorio De Sica; 1951.
- Best Cinematography (Migliore Fotografia), Carlo Montuori.
- Best Director (Migliore Regia), Vittorio De Sica.
- Best Film (Miglior Film a Soggetto).
- Best Score (Miglior Commento Musicale), Alessandro Cicognini.
- Best Screenplay (Migliore Sceneggiatura), Cesare Zavattini, Vittorio De Sica, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Oreste Biancoli, Adolfo Franci, and Gerardo Guerrieri.
- Best Story (Miglior Soggetto), Cesare Zavattini.
- Listed as one of TCM's top 15 most influential films list, as The Bicycle Thief (1947),
- Ranked #4 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.
- Voted #2 in BBC Culture's poll of 209 critics in 43 countries for the greatest foreign-language film of all time.
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- Bicycle Thieves at IMDb
- Bicycle Thieves is available for free viewing and download at the Internet Archive (German dialogue)
- Bicycle Thieves: A Passionate Commitment to the Real an essay by Godfrey Cheshire at the Criterion Collection
- Bicycle Thieves: Ode to the Common Man an essay by Charles Burnett at the Criterion Collection
- on YouTube by A. O. Scott (The New York Times) at YouTube
- on YouTube