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Criterion Review: Bicycle Thieves

March 29, 2016

By John Corrado

Bicycle Thieves Blu-rayA masterpiece of the Italian neorealist movement, Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves is being released on the Criterion Collection this week, in a beautifully restored Blu-ray edition.

When the bicycle he needs for work is stolen on the first day of his coveted new job, Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) sets out with his young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) to find it, desperate to track down the stolen vehicle so he can return to the work that provides his only hope of caring for his poverty-stricken family.

Set against the impoverished backdrop of post-WWII Rome, Bicycle Thieves uses its deceptively simple story to explore socially relevant themes, not only of how an act of theft can profoundly alter someone’s life, but also what leads others to steal or commit crimes.  It unfolds with a pressing sense of moral urgency, all building seamlessly towards a poignant final scene that is all the more haunting for its circular quality.

The film rings with a sense of authenticity that is felt in every scene, offering its most affecting moments through the situations that the characters find themselves in.  Lamberto Maggiorani masterfully carries the film, brilliantly portraying a noble working man trying to do the right thing, but growing increasingly desperate.  Enzo Staiola gives one of the all-time great performances from a child actor, charming and heartbreaking in the way he tries to help his father, always standing by his side and learning the harsh realities of the working world at a young age.

The 4K digital restoration allows every frame of the striking black and white cinematography to look crisp and pristine.  Profoundly relatable in its execution, and telling a powerful story that still has modern day resonance, Bicycle Thieves remains one of the finest films ever crafted, and an incredibly moving example of cinema at its most deeply human and personal.

The Blu-ray includes a collection of interviews with screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Enzo Staiola and scholar Callisto Cosulich on working with Vittorio De Sica, a look at the history of Italian neorealism with scholar Mark Shiel, and a 2003 documentary on screenwriter Cesare Zavattini.  There’s also an optional English-dubbed soundtrack, and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Godfrey Cheshire.

Bicycle Thieves is 89 minutes and unrated.

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