Bicycle Thieves (1948)

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Full disclosure – Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette, also The Bicycle Thief) was the first film I watched this year – that is nearly nine months ago. The reason I am writing this review so late is simply because I couldn’t muster up the courage to do so – how do you write a review for the greatest film ever made? That is not a hyperbole by any stretch of the imagination – I have seen many of the other contenders for this title – The Godfather, Citizen Kane and Vertigo, amongst others, and while they are absolute masterpieces, none of them reach the level of Bicycle Thieves. To watch Bicycle Thieves is to watch cinema in its purest form, a true masterwork of filmmaking, the most perfect storytelling ever put on screen and just sheer emotional resonance that absolutely no other film has been able to match. Quite simply put, Bicycle Thieves is the greatest film ever made, and while many do try to usurp it, it is just so absolutely perfect, it is unbearable. It is a film so brilliant, you wish you didn’t watch it, because for the rest of your life, no other film will ever be able to live up to that standard. If this sounds like an exaggeration, it is probably because you have not yet seen this masterpiece, because it is almost impossible to not think that this is just pure filmmaking, and nothing else can top it.

Bicycle Thieves was made by Vittorio De Sica, one of the most brilliant, yet sadly under-heralded filmmakers to ever work in cinema – his contemporaries always seem to get more adoration and praise than him – and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because when your contemporaries are Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and perhaps the greatest Italian filmmaker of all time, Federico Fellini, then you are certainly in fantastic company, and while the likes of Fellini and Visconti were making their careers out of slightly excessive (yet still brilliant) pieces of loud and expressive cinema, De Sica rather chose a far more simple route, creating smaller and far more intimate projects – and Bicycle Thieves is the perfect example of that. He never goes to far, and keeps it absolutely simple, with very little in the way between the story and the audience – there aren’t any flashy distractions or overly excessive techniques, just a simple story that the audience can become a part of. Even the score is simple and subtle, yet still brilliantly emotional and resonant to the larger themes of the film. De Sica clearly knew what he was doing here – but I am not entirely sure if he knew that what he was doing was making the greatest film of all time.

There is so much to discuss, I actually do not know where to start – perhaps the best way to look at Bicycle Thieves is to not look at it in any way that we would look at another film – there isn’t really any need to convince anyone to see this film – I truly believe no one can truly call themselves a film fan unless they have seen this film (or badly want to see it) – so to describe the plot would be useless. To talk about the story, and how it compares to other films would make it seem like I am trying to bring it down to the level of other films – and as much I this sounds like hyperbole, I cannot think of a film that can be compared to Bicycle Thieves. I don’t want to talk about the characters, because that’s too obvious – I don’t want to talk about the fact that the actors in Bicycle Thieves were all unprofessional and amateur performers, yet they give some of the greatest performances ever put on film. I don’t want to talk about the legacy of this film, how it is timeless and will be seen as a classic of world cinema for generations to come. To talk about any of this would be redundant, because so much has been written about these things, and there isn’t any shortage of intelligent and relevant thoughts on Bicycle Thieves, by people far more experienced than I in judging a film of this nature. I don’t want this to be another review that praises this film in a very technical way. I don’t want to discuss any of this, because others have done it far better.

Rather, I want to talk about how this film made me feel.

Since watching it at the beginning of the year, I have rewatched it three times. I will be absolutely transparent here, and be entirely honest – I cried my eyes out each and every time. I even become emotional just thinking of Bicycle Thieves. So many pro-film arguments claim that the best cinema is the cinema that makes you feel something, that remains in your mind for days afterwards. Bicycle Thieves has stayed in my head for months. I really run the fear of being unprofessional here, and letting my emotional connection to this film take over, but I don’t think there is a day that goes past when I don’t think of Bicycle Thieves. It is a film that I believe shows the most accurate and sincere form of reality there is – it almost feels as if Bicycle Thieves transcends cinema – it is a pure expression of reality. It is even more real than any documentary – it is the capturing of a slice of life and putting it on screen. There is not a single moment in the entire duration of Bicycle Thieves (which is too short, I must add) where I remembered I was watching a film. For ninety-three minutes, I was in post-World War II Italy, watching the lives of these characters. This isn’t even realism, it is pure reality.

The best kinds of films, I’ve found, are those that make you feel something and mean something to you – which is exactly what Bicycle Thieves is – it is a truly special film. It is a film that I am sure means a lot to many, many people. It certainly means a lot to me – the simple story, about the love between family, and the extents that someone will go to provide for his family shows truly touched me. Bicycle Thieves is a film that shows life as it should be shown – harsh, realistic and ultimately, very bleak. It would have been so easy for De Sica to end this film on a far more optimistic note, but the ending, where Antonio Ricci and his son Bruno simply de-materialize into a crowd, is perhaps the most powerful moment in all of cinema. It is one of the several moments in this film where I weep uncontrollably, and while it may be unprofessional to state that, it would take someone with a heart of stone to resist the pure emotional blow that this film deals you. I cannot express how meaningful this film is – I have never seen anything like it before.

I honestly don’t know what else to say. This is a film that needs to be seen to be believed. There isn’t any need for me to convince you to see this film if you haven’t, because its reputation and status as a classic speaks for itself. However, I do highly suggest that whoever has not seen Bicycle Thieves needs to do so immediately. It is a film that will change your life, and it certainly changed mine. I have to give this film the ultimate highest score, but I actually wish I could give it more. Bicycle Thieves is the greatest film ever made, and if you don’t believe me, then you need to watch this film.

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