Fun fact: finding usable covers for older films in a 16×9 aspect ratio is a real pain.
With that said, I unfortunately do not have much time to write as much on this as I’d like to. It seems watching films early on in the morning will have to be the proper method going forward.
To preface this, let me tell you a little about my thoughts on older cinema—you know, black and white films from ye olden times. I generally don’t care for them too much. Something about the aesthetic, writing, acting, or a collection of all and more make it hard for me to take it as seriously as I would films presently. Maybe it’s a generational thing, maybe I’m just too coated in the expectations and innovations provided by modern cinema.
So when I first discovered this Italian film from 70+ years ago and saw the community of Letterboxd collectively praise the ground it stood on, I naturally became cynical. “It’s probably not as good as they say it is.” But taking a step back, I have enjoyed other older films greatly, such as The General or Paths of Glory; may as well go in with an open mind.
In the end, I still find it to be overrated.
It reminds me a lot of Casablanca, another “classic” from the “Golden Age” of Hollywood cinema which I viewed last year—while likable, I found it pretty underwhelming based on its legacy. Bicycle Thieves has a similar poignancy to it with its condensed view of characters and the political nature of its narrative. Apparently, the actors were not trained and hardly had any acting experience at all, which is remarkable considering the results. Where Casablanca had star power and romance on its side, Bicycle Thieves is something emotionally captivating in another sense.
It’s heart-wrenching, to say the least. A small family in poverty, with a father trying to maintain the safety of his children and wife by securing a well-paying job; only stipulation is that he needs a bicycle, which he can afford after selling the sheets off of his bed. When that bicycle is stolen near the beginning of the film, he becomes stranded in a purgatory of the unknown, running endlessly about with his impressionable son trying to find the catalyst to a secure lifestyle, something that was shown to be a rarity for him. A downward spiral of continuously justified doubt that he’ll ever be able to find it unhinges his character and morality at the seams.
In terms of technicality, I think the film does well to showcase all that it wishes to address. The struggles of the people too poor to afford good comfort; the lengths they’ll go to to find hope and carry on. All the horrid injustices of the world that leave people battered and cynical, while the lucky few get to live extravagantly for the sake of it. It’s communicated very well here, and I’m not surprised by the following and reputation it has.
Despite this, my largest issue is purely my own undoing: I couldn’t get emotionally invested. The ending got a little out of me, but aside from recognizing the sympathetic situations these characters faced, I took it rather objectively. So whose fault is it: mine for being too apathetic or the film’s for not being emotionally riveting enough? I’m willing to side with the former, given my generally reserved nature. I won’t denigrate Bicycle Thieves for not being able to crack the thickened shell that is my heart; I believe the message is completely worthwhile and thorough regardless.
Should you have the time, I believe it’s a recommendable, though perhaps not always agreeable watch. A sinister story of progressive tragedy that exhibits society as it likely still is today. I enjoyed it fine, and the ending gives it just enough “oomph” to have the anxieties harnessed throughout come forth in spectacular, dreary fashion.
The film in full is available on YouTube (with English subtitles).
Final Score: 7/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!