Bicycle Thieves Review

The Film

In austerity Britain, the poor are finding that they can't rely on council services to care for them or to protect them. Waiting lists are rising for operations, police numbers are falling and the government seems most bothered with ignoring the excesses of bankers and the employees of newspaper tycoons. Commonsense Dave tells us it's about the immigration of the last 15 years, the fecklessness of scroungers and the willful mismanagement of other politicians. If only we could all adhere to the rules of good old British fair play, we'll get through it together.imageSimilar messages have been passed down from political elites during previous recessions to deflect us from the Bob Diamonds, the Rebekah Wades and the like so that we pillory the nameless and the hopeless instead. Palpably, we are not "all in it together" as some lose livelihood and home whilst others receive obscene bonuses and get out of jail free cards. The only shared experiences here are those shared by masses of unemployed and growing numbers of homeless. It is this common experience of poverty which is at the heart of Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves.

In late 40's Italy, Antonio, an unemployed father of two, has a job at last but he needs a bike to keep it. His wife resourcefully pawns what she can and the bicycle is in his possession when on his first day, chest full of pride, he sees his gateway to a decent life stolen by a young man. He enlists the help of the local shop steward to find it after the police prove uncaring, and a trek across Rome through religion, poverty and postwar desolation leads him to a culprit, or perhaps a victim, and a choice that reveals him as little different to his quarry.imageThrough the deceptively simple tale of Antonio, Bicycle Thieves uncovers an Italian post war world where institutions fail the common man, and where momentary empowerment is but a tortuous mirage. Church, state, party and the illusion of leisure and wealth are no consolation to a decent man driven to desperation, and the basic insight he learns is the marginal difference between him and those who sin against him.

The deceptively clever construction of the story allows for plenty of doubling of scenes and themes, not least of which is the situation reflected within the film's title. Antonio finds himself drawn through Communists and Church, black markets and even gets a sense of the terrible future that could await him as he chases his thief. The score adds sentimentality, broad humour punctuates the despair and the pathos of his son Bruno ensures that the message is populist, easy to understand, and immensely moving.imageThe non-professional actors, the lack of obvious theatricality and the straight nature of the tale create a directness and simple poetry that is much copied since but rarely matched. Personally within De Sica's work, I prefer Miracle in Milan for its greater sense of hope and relieving surrealism, but Bicycle Thieves is a great film where the art is nearly unnoticeable because it is so elegant. A work that every serious film fan should cherish.

Tech Specs

Bicycle Thieves comes to blu-ray with a 23.98 per second frame-rate and on a BD50 with a filesize of 20.7GB. The transfer has come courtesy of a restoration from the original negative and whilst not spotless, debris and dust on the image are rare, the contrast has not been overboosted and whilst edges seem sharper than previous home entertainment releases they avoid haloing. Generally, this is a good transfer where fidelity to the source is respected.imageThe lossless mono mix maintains the same good taste used with the transfer, and although there are rare pops and evidence of the films age, this is as clear as the film has sounded to my ears barring a little distortion in crescendos. The music could sound cleaner but this is a very minor quibble. The optional English subtitles are excellent.

Special Features

This dual edition release carries one more extra feature on the blu-ray disc as compared to the standard definition version with the documentary Cesare Zavattini present on the former only. Bernardo Bertolucci, Tonino Guerra, Roberto Benigni, Marco Bellochio and others contribute to Carlo Lizzani's portrait of the great neo-realist screen-writer, which makes use of archive footage of Zavattini himself. It's largely a biography with talking heads and plenty of clips from the likes of Miracle in Milan and Umberto D. Zavattini is portrayed as a passionate, sincere man and the highlights of the documentary are when he is holding forth.

Timeless Cinema appears on both the DVD and Blu-ray, although the visual quality on the HD side is far from exceptional. Here, by use of archive, interviews and newsreel De Sica talks about his career as both actor and director. Delivered by him direct to camera, there is an element of the theatrical, it is shot in a theatre, in the presentation but he is engaging and interesting as he discusses his early compromises, his desire for acting and his more political work. It's more charming than enlightening.

The commentary from Robert Gordon is rather good value. Not overly bookish or an attempt to tell you exactly what you are watching, Gordon is a helpful companion who speaks fluently with plenty in the way of interesting tidbits. For instance, he reveals that Sergio Leone appears at one point in the film as an extra and fills in cast bios as much as is necessary. In fact, I thought this was the best commentary that I had heard in some time.

The original trailer for the film is included on both editions and a 34 page booklet is included with essays from Zavattini, and Michael Brooke, along with lobby cards and stills. The booklet was not provided for review so I will elaborate no further.


A great film giving a solid high definition treatment with two decent documentaries thrown in for good measure

9 out of 10
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out of 10

Last updated: 09/06/2018 13:33:33

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