The Bicycle Theif Essay Research Paper 2

The Bicycle Theif Essay, Research Paper

“The Bicycle Thief” is a deeply moving neo-realist study of post-War

Italy which depicts one man?s loss of faith and his struggle to maintain

personal dignity in poverty and bureaucratic indifference. Antonio Ricci is a

bill-poster whose bicycle, essential for his job, is stolen by a thief. Joined

by his son Bruno, Antonio vainly searches for his bike, eventually resorting to

the humiliation of theft himself. Throughout this paper, I will attempt to

trace the character through “The Bicycle Thief.” The film opens with a montage

of early morning urban activities ending on a crowd of unemployed laborers

clamoring for work. Sitting to the side is Antonio Ricci. Beaten down by

despair, he has lost the energy to fight. His spirits are lifted, however,

when his name is called out for a job. Invigorated, he damns poverty. His joy

however, is fleeting, employment depends on one condition — that he owns

a bicycle. To provide for his family, Antonio long ago pawned his bicycle

and now, in one day, he raise the price of the pawn ticket. Not knowing

where he will get the money, he turns to his wife Maria. In their stark home,

the only thing left to pawn is a remnant of her dowry and the family?s last

vestige of comfort — the bed sheets. Bravely, Maria strips the bed and

begins to wash the linens. At the pawn shop, it becomes evident that the

Ricci?s misery is not unique. Their sheets are added to a mountain of small

white bundles, and Antonio reclaims his bicycle from the rack of hundreds

like it.

Delighted by the prospect of a good fortune, the couple happily ride

away. Antonio picks up his instructions for the following morning and Maria

stops by to see Signora Santona, a medium who predicted that Antonio would find

a job. He gently scolds his wife for her superstitions, but Maria holds firm to

her belief in the woman?s psychic ability. In a series intermittent domestic

scenes, Antonio is portrayed as a loving husband and an understanding father.

His warmth belies the stereotypically “macho” Latin male. He helps his wife

carry heavy buckets of water and engages his young son Bruno as a reliable

helper, and trusted him with the preparation of the cherished bicycle for the

first day?s work. Hired as a billposter, Antonio was required to affix looming

images of Rita Hayworth to the gray and ancient walls of Rome; ironically, he

juxtaposes Hollywood?s glamorous world vision to the stark realties of post-War

Europe. While Antonio struggles to smooth out the lumps under the

advertisement, a thief slips up behind him and steals his bicycle. Antonio

chases him in vain, loses him in the rush of the mid-morning traffic. Thus

begins an unrelenting three day search for his stolen bicycle. Accompanied by

Bruno, Antonio combs Rome to recover his property, which has come to represent

both his livelihood and any hope for a prosperous future. The police are of no

help; they cannot be bothered with such a trivial case. Enlisting friends,

Antonio and his son search the open air markets where stolen goods are

dismantled and sold, for a trace of evidence. In a masterful montage of human

faces and bicycle parts — frames, tires, seats, horns, and so on, De Sica

contrasts the world?s apparent abundance with Antonio?s desperate need. The

camera takes Antonio?s point of view, panning right to left, it seeks

hopelessly for a “needle in a haystack.” While waiting for a rain storm to

clear Antonio spots the thief talking with an old man. Again, he chases but

loses the thief, and follows the old man into a church, which is offering food

and a shave to those want those services. Commenting on the role of the

Catholic Church in post-War Italy, De Sica interrupts the mass with Antonio?s

interrogation of the old man. As the congregation prays, that their souls be

purified and their spirits soothed on their paths of sorrow and privation,

Antonio demands the criminal?s address. The old man is oblivious to both and

only wants to know what he will be given to eat. De Sica?s evaluation of the

Catholic Church is clear. In a world in which the recovery of a bicycle stands

between prosperity and starvation, a priest?s promise of heaven has lost his

power to comfort the poor. Sanctuaries have become soup kitchens, where well

dressed women herd the parishioners like sheep, and lawyers serve as barbers

and leads the litany. While the bourgeoisie must seduce the power to Mass,

Roman women line up to spend their last lira on a clairvoyant. When Antonio

losses hope — admitting that even the saints cannot help him — he too turns

to Signora Santona. Hungry for a brighter future, her clients come to her as

they once did to the church, confessing their problems. She in turn, provides

them with metaphoric and cryptic answers. She tells Antonio that he will

either find the bicycle now or not at all. She sounds like a charlatan but

when Antonio and Bruno step into the street, the thief miraculously appears and

the chase is on again. The criminal turns out to be a pathetic epileptic, just

as destitute as Antonio. The police can offer no help without witnesses and

evidence, so Antonio surrenders his fight without pressing charges. Hopeless,

Antonio and Bruno wander aimlessly through the city streets, finally resting

outside a soccer stadium. Hundreds of bicycles are parked outside. The crowd

pours out, and Antonio is mesmerized by the sounds and sights of the cyclists

riding by. In desperation, he dashes to steal a lone bicycle. He is immediately

caught, threatened by his captors and humiliated in front of Bruno,

compassionately, the owner allows Antonio to go without pressing charges. In

tears, father and son are swallowed by the crowd walking silently into an

uncertain future. (McGills Survey Of Cinema, p.1)

It was the thematic richness in the “Bicycle Thief.” I am aware that

there has been a lot of complex criticism regarding this film, and much of it

has been of diverse nature. For one thing, De Sica exposes a variety of

psychological and emotional losses, i.e. the simple story of a stolen bicycle.

At the same time, as Antonio meets frustration at every turn, he losses his

confidence and his self respect and feels completely isolated. However, he is

rises above the earthy, so to speak, when he refuses to press charges on the


In the next major move of the film, he is quick to attempt to steal

someone else?s bicycle. Humiliation is his only reward. At the same time, there

is yet another facet of this film with has to do with father and son

relationships. It is actually the emotional center, and in my view the one

around which the entire story unfolds. De Sica has claimed that his primary

intent was poetic rather than political, and the film has been praised as

anti-Facist and pro-Solidarity. Indeed, the stark realism of this backdrop

reveals the results of years of war and impoverished living. The comments made

about society as well as politics are inescapable, but are not overt.

When De Sica began directing in the early 1940?s he had already

established himself as a successful leading man on both stage and screen.

Following his directorial debut, with a few sentimental comedies, De Sica

collaborate with screen writer Cesare Vazattini on “I Bambini Ci Guardano”

(1943); “The Children Are Watching Us,” and embarked upon an artistic

partnership that would last throughout the 1970?s. He seems strongly influenced

neo-realistic style, and in addition to the “Bicycle Thief,” they contributed

to other films as well. (McGills Survey of Cinema, p.2) In view, the “Bicycle

Thief” has much to do with a clashing of cultures. There are transcending

messages, i.e., politics and social decay which appear in this movie, but are

not necessarily the immediate intent of this film. At the same time, it could

also be argued that poverty is a central theme, because one man (and his entire

family) depend upon the ownership of a single bicycle – - one which he is not

able to get after it had been stolen from him. In emphasizing the need to

honor the individuality of each culture, one Satyagig Ray saw no reason for

closing the doors to the outside world in his films/community. Indeed, opening

doors was an important priority of Ray?s work. In this respect, Ray?s attitude

can contrast sharply with the increasing tendency to see his own culture

(India) or other cultures, i.e. European, Spanish, Asian, etc., in highly

conservative terms, for purposes of preserving them from the “pollution” of

western ideas and thought. He was also willing to enjoy and to learn from

ideas, art forms and styles of life from anywhere, in India or abroad. Ray

heterogeneity within local communities. This perception contrasts sharply with

the tendency of many communitarians, religious and secular, who are willing to

break up the nation into communities and then stop dead there: “Thus far and no

further.” The great film maker?s eagerness to seek the larger unit – - to talk

to the whole world – - went well with his enthusiasm for understanding the

smallest of the small, i.e. the individuality, ultimately, of each person.

(Mamartya, p, 27)

_____________, “The Bicycle Thief; Ladri Di Bicilette,” McGill?s Survey of Cinema, 15 June


Mamartya, Sen, “Our Culture, Their Culture, Satyagig Ray And The Art of Universalism,” Vol.

214, The New Republic, 1 April 1996


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