Movie Review: ‘The Bicycle Thieves’ - A Movie That Inspired the Only Oscar Winning Indian Director

Bicycle Thieves [1948] – Read at Leicester

Source - Wikipedia

“I mind my own business, I bother nobody, and what do I get? Trouble.”

- Giulio Chiari, The Beggar

Bicycle Thieves centers on Antonio’s odyssey to find his stolen bike. As his decision to go to the police station and his aggressive confrontation with the thief make clear, Antonio not only wants his stolen bike back, but he also wants to receive justice and see the young thief imprisoned for his crimes. In a surprising yet logical twist at the ending,

 Antonio steals an unattended bicycle himself, desperately realizing that there is no other way he will be able to provide for his family. 

Antonio’s attempted theft ironically subverts audience expectations; because of his high moral compass and craving for justice and equity, we are led to think Antonio would never even consider descending to such levels of criminality, but the ending proceeds to prove the opposite. 

This situational irony illuminates how poverty, inefficient government functionaries, and desperation dehumanize decent men into petty criminals.


Name of the Movie - The Bicycle Thieves

Name of the Writer - Luigi Bartolini

Genre - Crime/ Drama 

Language - Italian


Unemployed Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) is elated when he finally finds work hanging posters around war-torn Rome. His wife, Maria (Lianella Carell), sells the family's bed linens to retrieve Antonio's bicycle from the pawnshop so he can take the job. 

However, disaster strikes when Antonio's bicycle is stolen, and his new job is doomed unless he can find the thief. With the help of his lively son, Bruno (Enzo Staiola), Antonio combs the city, growing increasingly desperate for justice.

About the Author:

Luigi Bartolini was an Italian painter, writer, and poet. He is most well known for his novel, Bicycle Thieves, upon which the Italian neorealist film directed by Vittorio De Sica and of the same title was based.

He published more than 70 books during his lifetime. His work was also part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1948 Summer Olympics.

About the Movie

Adapted for the screen by Cesare Zavattini from the 1946 novel by Luigi Bartolini, and starring Lamberto Maggiorani as the desperate father and Enzo Staiola as his plucky young son, Bicycle Thieves received an Academy Honorary Award (most outstanding foreign language film) in 1950 and, in 1952 was deemed the greatest film of all time by Sight & Sound magazine's poll of filmmakers and critics; fifty years later another poll organized by the same magazine ranked it sixth among the greatest-ever films. 

In the 2012 version of the list the film ranked 33rd among critics and 10th among directors. The film was also cited by Turner Classic Movies as one of the most influential films in cinema history and it is considered part of the canon of classic cinema.

Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) is a poor man who is thrilled when he is at last offered a job: delivering  and putting up movie posters. But he needs a bicycle, and must supply his own, so his wife Maria (Lianella Carelli) pawns the family’s entire stock of bed linen to redeem the bicycle he had already hooked. 

On his first day at work, the unlocked machine is stolen and Antonio drops everything to go on a desperate odyssey through the streets of Rome with his little boy Bruno (Enzo Staiola) to get his bike back, pleading and accusing and uncovering scenes of poverty similar to theirs wherever they go.

They create uproar in classic crowd moments: in the streets, in a market, in a church mass. Faces always gather avidly around the pair, all commenting, complaining and generally magnifying the father and son’s distress and mortification.

This is a story that magnificently withholds the comic or dramatic palliatives another sort of film might have introduced. Antonio and Bruno are a world away from Chaplin and his Kid. The son is the intimate witness of the father’s humiliation, his inadequacy as a provider. 

The scenes at the beginning of the film, when Antonio casually leaves his bicycle unlocked but it remains for the moment miraculously unstable, have to be watched through your fingers.

Antonio seems unable or unwilling to embrace the obvious redemptive moral – that his son is the important possession, not the wretched bicycle – and De Sica is unwilling to embrace it either, perhaps precisely because it is too obvious, or because this moral is a luxury that only well-off people can afford. 

The father is obsessed with finding a stolen needle in the urban haystack, obsessed with getting his job back. Again and again, he ignores his little boy while scanning the horizon for his bicycle.

At one stage, he hears uproar from the riverbank about a “drowned boy”. With a guilty start, he looks around. Do they mean Bruno? No: there he is, safe and sound.

But the lesson is not learned. He doesn’t even hold Bruno’s hand! And, in a later scene, we see the poor boy almost run over by a car because his father isn’t looking out for him.

Bruno’s simple physical survival is the movie’s secret miracle, and he is finally to be his father’s savior, but in such a way as to render Antonio’s humiliation complete. 

This is poverty’s authentic sting: banal and horrible loss of dignity. Bicycle Thieves is a brilliant, tactlessly real work of art.

Underlying Theme

the main theme is the idea that man is alienated from others in a segmented society, and everyone focuses on their individual needs.

Antonio can’t rely on the police who, understandably, are unable to help locate the bicycle because of the difficulty and unimportance of the task; one cop answers another’s question with, "It’s nothing, just a bicycle." 

But to Antonio, it’s something vitally important, and he must play the cop in tracking it down, a role perhaps foreshadowed earlier by his wife’s observation. 

Later, as Antonio talks to his friends about the incident, he is told to "be quiet" because someone is trying to hold a meeting. Metaphorically, it seems that even when people try to band together for the common good, the individual voice is lost, and someone is compromised. 

The film succeeds in creating empathy for Antonio’s dejected state so that his ultimate act becomes an understandable and painful reaction.

Famous Quotes

  1. “Forget everything. We'll get drunk!”

  2. “There's a cure for everything except death.”

  3. “I've been cursed since the day I was born.”

  4. “You live and you suffer.”

  5. “It's pointless. There's nothing doing. It always rains on Sundays.”

The Bottom Line

When Bicycle Thieves was released in Italy, it was viewed with hostility and as portraying Italians in a negative way. Italian critic Guido Aristarco praised it, but also complained that "sentimentality might at times take the place of artistic emotion." 

Fellow Italian neorealist film director Luchino Visconti criticized the film, saying that it was a mistake to use a professional actor to dub over Lamberto Maggiorani's dialogue. 

Luigi Bartolini, the author of the novel from which de Sica drew his title, was highly critical of the film, feeling that the spirit of his book had been thoroughly betrayed because his protagonist was a middle-class intellectual and his theme was the breakdown of civil order.

Bicycle Thieves has continued to gain very high praise from critics, with the film-review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reporting 98% positive reviews from 65 reviews, with an average 9.20/10 rating. The picture is also in the Vatican's Best Films List for portraying humanistic values.

Many directors that have cited it as a major influence include Satyajit Ray, Ken Loach, Giorgio Mangiamele, Bimal Roy, Anurag Kashyap, Balu Mahendra, and Basu Chatterjee.

The film was noteworthy for film directors of the Iranian New Wave, such as Jafar Panahi and Dariush Mehrjui.

The film was one of 39 foreign films recommended by Martin Scorsese.

The Bicycle Thieves is a must watch as it’s a masterpiece which should be seen by everyone. The film making of this movie inspired a whole generation to write and direct those kinds of movies. So, it is highly recommended.

My ratings for the movie - 5 on 5 

Watch the movie on Netflix or get the book from Amazon - The Bicycle Thieves


Written By - Resmita Barai



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