Bicycle Thieves: Italian Neorealist Masterpiece

Italian neorealism has a prominent place in history of cinema. This particular style of film making took birth in 1944 in Italy and almost lasted for 10 years giving the world some of best masterpieces. The country was struggling with the post World War II affects and extreme depression. Italy was also emerging from the long fascist regime of Mussolini. Those years from 1944-1954 were truly significant for political and social reasons. It doesn’t really come as a surprise that neorealism as a film style deeply rooted in reality evolved during that decade. The film makers literally expressed their new found freedom from fascisct regime through these films.

The neorealist film style essentially meant a depiction of simple everyday struggle of man on the street to survive through the changing times. A humanistic and compassionate story pitted against harsh reality was the true essence of a neo realist film.  The films were made with non-professional actors. Yet these masterpieces which were shot outdoors, on the road, using minimal editing and lighting, with no structured narrative or labored dialogues were one of the most stylish films ever made.

Vittorio De Sica was one of the greatest neo realist film makers of that era.  Vittorio De Sica’s  Bicycle Thieves made in 1948 is considered one of the best classic neo realist films of the world. The simple story of a man and his son searching for stolen bicycle touches a deep chord with the audience. The desperate search for bicycle without which the man’s job is at stake also depicts the difficult economic period in Italy when unemployment was all time high. Nearly 25 percent of the population was unemployed. People had to pawn even their linen to survive.

The tale is extremely poignant and shows realistically the futility of politics, bureaucracy and even religion. Nothing really comes to the aid of the poor struggling man. Final act of disillusionment is when the man makes a futile attempt to steal a bicycle while being watched by his little son. This film is extremely relevant even today as the world is hit by worse recession and unemployment is high. The film never really promises any hope neither ends on a positive note. That’s how reality is – devoid of any illusions and delusions.


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