See now why we have to find it? Otherwise we don’t eat. What can we do?
Antonio Ricci to his young son, Bruno Ricci, Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Antonio Ricci is a decent, working class man trying to provide for his family in post-World War Two Rome, a city plagued by unemployment and poverty. Desperation turns to hope when he is offered employment but the job requires a bicycle – a bicycle that Ricci has recently pawned. After his wife sells the sheets off their beds to raise money to retrieve the bicycle, Ricci proudly heads off to work as his young boy, Bruno, beams with admiration. When a thief steals Ricci’s bicycle, however, he and Bruno must search the city for the stolen property in a frantic effort to save Ricci’s job. As his son looks on, the father's resilience and integrity reach a breaking point.
Bicycle Thieves was filmed on location in the streets of post-war Rome, taking full advantage of the stark setting to accentuate the main character’s feelings of despair.
The film reminds us that our circumstances often play a significant role in our choices, and that good people under pressure can sometimes lose their way. The line separating the law-abiding citizen from criminal behaviour during times of extreme stress is much thinner than most of us believe.
It is also a story about offenders and their families, and the disillusionment of children when their parents betray the virtues they espouse.
Its universal themes, and the heartfelt interplay between Ricci and his son, ensure the film’s timeless resonance.
· The definitive consumer release of Bicycle Thieves in North America is the 2016 Blu-ray edition published by the Criterion Collection (spine number 374).
· In 2005 the British Film Institute designated Bicycle Thieves as one of fifty films that children should see by the age of fourteen.