The Bicycle Thief (Ladri di Biciclette) is a film that hardly makes a bad move. It is often thought of as an art film and has influenced lots of serious directors, but it is as easy to watch as classic Steven Spielberg. This is a movie that knows exactly how to pull at the heartstrings.
Released in 1948 and directed by Vittorio De Sica, the film is heralded as one of the key movies in the Italian Neorealist movement. This was a trend in film-making that, broadly, saw directors use ordinary people as actors and shoot on location rather than in studios. Stories would focus on the poor and working class, which The Bicycle Thief does too.
In brief, the film tells the story of unemployed Antonio Ricci who lives in direst poverty with a wife and two children to feed. Not only is he poor, but after World War II it seems that the whole of Rome is living hand to mouth and there are 100 people after each job. When Ricci finally gets a job putting up film posters, for which a bicycle is essential, things seem to look up. Then the bike is stolen and he and his little 8-year-old son spend the rest of the film trying to hunt down their one chance for daily bread.
The film moves through Rome over the course of a single day, taking us on a ride through post-war Roman society, including a wide variety of idiosyncratic scenes and interesting characters. Even people who appear only briefly are vivid and believable. Rome too plays an important role as a character – this is a Rome where cars and trams drive about, but a passing Roman legion or some medieval Pope being carried past in a sedan chair wouldn’t seem out of place. The city believably throws up memorable scene after memorable scene.
The Bicycle Thief was acknowledged as a classic soon after it was released. Just four years later it was judged to be the greatest film of all time by critics and filmmakers surveyed for Sight and Sound magazine. Despite the millions of films that must have been released since, the movie still ranked in the top ten of the BFI’s Top 50 Films You Must See Before You’re 14. The BFI are probably right, it is one of those films that we should all have in our collections. If only it wasn’t quite so sad (and wasn’t in Italian), it would probably be shown every Christmas, like It’s a Wonderful Life.
The movie has now been released on Blu-Ray for the first time by Arrow Films, as a part of their Arrow Academy imprint of the classics of world cinema. The box features both a DVD and Blu-Ray edition of the film and a decent little booklet with some interesting background and criticism of the film. This is a meaty enough film to withstand repeated viewing and examination and this box should allow that. The discs include an audio commentary by Robert Gordon, an expert Italian cinema and author of a BFI book on the film, and two documentaries, one on the director Vittorio De Sica and one on his long-time collaborator Cesare Zavattini.
Arrow Academy are releasing a number of other classic films, including the classic horror Les Diaboliques, and the ultimate heist movie Rififi, which we will also keep you updated with.