BFI Classics: Bicycle Thieves

Author: Robert S. C. Gordon

Of all the neo-realism films that came out during the 1940s in Italy, Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri di biciclette is probably the most well known and highly praised of the movement. The film (which is shot around the war torn city of Rome) really is a sight to behold. Each frame of action feels beautifully composed and it’s hard not to see this as a world cinema masterpiece.

I first came into contact with De Sica’s film during my studies and of all the neo-realistic features which were viewed, The Bicycle Thieves was the one which left the biggest impression. Everything from its simple premise (man acquires a bike to help with a job, only to have it stolen) through to its naturally impressive performances from actors Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola as father and son, all help to elevate this film past its simple story structure into a moving story of heartbreak and loss.

With this release of this BFI Film Classic, author Robert S.C. Gordon has taken a more theoretical approach to the material. He gives the reader an in-depth analysis on the why the film is a classic of the neo-realist movement. For the passing film fan the book’s too theory based and a little heavy to make a good coffee table book. But those who study film will find it an invaluable source of information as it provides well researched information on the film’s production. And at one point, mid-way through the book, we’re treated to a double page spread of a map of Rome (dated 1950) which details the various locations which the characters visit.

As a study aid this is without a doubt highly recommended, as is the film, to all those fans of cinema who’ve yet to witness its downbeat brilliance. Those film fans with a passing interest might find the book too slow-paced and ultimately too theory driven. Either way it’s certainly at least worth one read just based on the sheer effort and detail placed into each of its pages.

Dominic O’Brien

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