The Bicycle Theif



"The Bicycle Thief" is a deeply moving neo-realist study of post-War

Italy which depicts one man’s loss of faith and his struggle to maintain

personal dignity in poverty and bureaucratic indifference. Antonio Ricci is a

bill-poster whose bicycle, essential for his job, is stolen by a thief. Joined

by his son Bruno, Antonio vainly searches for his bike, eventually resorting to

the humiliation of theft himself. Throughout this paper, I will attempt to

trace the character through "The Bicycle Thief." The film opens with a montage

of early morning urban activities ending on a crowd of unemployed laborers

clamoring for work. Sitting to the side is Antonio Ricci. Beaten down by

despair, he has lost the energy to fight. His spirits are lifted, however,

when his name is called out for a job. Invigorated, he damns poverty. His joy

however, is fleeting, employment depends on one condition -- that he owns

a bicycle. To provide for his family, Antonio long ago pawned his bicycle

and now, in one day, he raise the price of the pawn ticket. Not knowing

where he will get the money, he turns to his wife Maria. In their stark home,

the only thing left to pawn is a remnant of her dowry and the family’s last

vestige of comfort -- the bed sheets. Bravely, Maria strips the bed and

begins to wash the linens. At the pawn shop, it becomes evident that the

Ricci’s misery is not unique. Their sheets are added to a mountain of small

white bundles, and Antonio reclaims his bicycle from the rack of hundreds

like it.

Delighted by the prospect of a good fortune, the couple happily ride

away. Antonio picks up his instructions for the following morning and Maria

stops by to see Signora Santona, a medium who predicted that Antonio would find

a job. He gently scolds his wife for her superstitions, but Maria holds firm to

her belief in the woman’s psychic ability. In a series intermittent domestic

scenes, Antonio is portrayed as a loving husband and an understanding father.

His warmth belies the stereotypically "macho" Latin male. He helps his wife

carry heavy buckets of water and engages his young son Bruno as a reliable

helper, and trusted him with the preparation of the cherished bicycle for the

first day’s work. Hired as a billposter, Antonio was required to affix looming

images of Rita Hayworth to the gray and ancient walls of Rome; ironically, he

juxtaposes Hollywood’s glamorous world vision to the stark realties of post-War

Europe. While Antonio struggles to smooth out the lumps under the

advertisement, a thief slips up behind him and steals his bicycle. Antonio

chases him in vain, loses him in the rush of the mid-morning traffic. Thus

begins an unrelenting three day search for his stolen bicycle. Accompanied by

Bruno, Antonio combs Rome to recover his property, which has come to represent

both his livelihood and any hope for a prosperous future. The police are of no

help; they cannot be bothered with such a trivial case. Enlisting friends,

Antonio and his son search the open air markets where stolen goods are

dismantled and sold, for a trace of evidence. In a masterful montage of human

faces and bicycle parts -- frames, tires, seats, horns, and so on, De Sica

contrasts the world’s apparent abundance with Antonio’s desperate need. The

camera takes Antonio’s point of view, panning right to left, it seeks

hopelessly for a "needle in a haystack." While waiting for a rain storm to

clear Antonio spots the thief talking with an old man. Again, he chases but

loses the thief, and follows the old man into a church, which is offering food

and a shave to those want those services. Commenting on the role of the

Catholic Church in post-War Italy, De Sica interrupts the mass with Antonio’s

interrogation of the old man. As the congregation prays, that their souls be

purified and their spirits soothed on their paths of sorrow and privation,

Antonio demands the criminal’s address. The old man is oblivious to both and

only wants to know what he will be given to eat. De Sica’s evaluation of the

Catholic Church is clear. In a world in which the recovery of