- Gareth Crook
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
When the first logo you see on the opening credits is The Criterion Collection you know you’re in safe hands. You also know you’re watching a classic. We’re in post war Italy. Times are hard, work is scarce. Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) gets a job putting up posters. He’ll need a bike, but he doesn’t have one... well, he does, but he pawned it to buy food. Swapping bed sheets for the bike, he gets it back. These seem like minor details, but details matter, craft matters and this is a wonderfully rich story. The bike is important, a lifeline in a harsh existence. You can see what’s going to happen and the tease, the tension, it’s excruciating. Antonio is such a nice person, as is his wife Maria, their baby daughter and especially young Bruno (Enzo Staiola) who’s already a chip off the old block. All this plays to the pure desperation to Antonio having his bike stolen. It’s just a bike, but it’s so much more. I often think films like this wouldn’t work if made now, we expect too much energy and drive in modern cinema. This subtlety would be lost. I’m not so sure through, I’d love to see someone make something like this. Simple clean dialogue, elegant cinematography, honest and romantic characters. Losing his bike you’d think would scupper the story, but it’s merely the beginning. Antonio is a hard worker and with a network of like minded souls behind him, he sets to scouring Rome for his beloved wheels. The back streets of Rome look beautiful, especially in soft monochrome and there’s a real sense of the place, the stone, the people. The story though sounds like it could be dull, but again it’s the details that matter. The story burns with purpose, the feisty Italian passion driving it along. Antonio and Bruno turn amateur sleuths, following a lead, but one that brings more frustration and dangerous temptation. It’s absolutely beautiful!