51. “Bicycle Thieves”, Vittorio de Sica (1948)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen List

Bicycle Thieves

Bicycle Thieves aka Ladri di biciclette

dir. Vittorio de Sica scr. Vittorio de Sica, Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Gerardo Guerrieri, Oreste Biancoli, Adolfo Franci cin. Carlo Montuori with Enzo Stiaola and Lamberto Maggiorani

In 100 words: This landmark of Italian neorealism has built a staggering portrait of post-war Rome, with remarkable empathy for its main characters’ hopefulness, triumphs, and desperation, without turning maudlin. The narrative builds to a powerful choice and an ending full of ambiguity, and perhaps generosity towards its characters and the uncertainty about their future. De Sica’s camerawork and framing captures the desperation of a city trying to rebuild, but alive with activity.  It’s a more deeply psychological take on poverty than Rosselini’s: we understand how vital that bicycle is, but also understand too well reasons behind the choices people make to survive.

Other Movies for Context: Vittorio de Sica is an important figure in Italian cinema and this film basically cemented his status is a premiere director. His Umberto D. (1952) similarly focuses on the harshness of life in post-war Italy, even if it’s a bit more depressing than this one. I also like Two Women (1960), the movie that won Sophia Loren her Oscar for Best Actress.