Vittorio De Sica

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Richard Winnington

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Bicycle Thieves is a wholly satisfying film in that de Sica has so simplified and mastered the mechanics of the job that nothing stands between you and his intention. It can be likened to a painting that is formed in an intensity of concentration, and is as good as finished before it reaches the canvas. In fact, Bicycle Thieves, as a film properly should, relates to plastic and in no sense to dramatic or literary art. de Sica displays this with the opening compilation of visuals, which at once places his family in an environment of slow, sapping industrial poverty, where the bicycle and the bed linen represent the last claims of domestic pride, and where the pawnshop and the tenement fortune-teller batten on misery. It is, needless to say, a Rome the visitor sees though seldom penetrates, but where, before the war, he might have admired the triumphs of Mussolini's industrial architecture. (pp. 27-8)

[Although, by] some process of magnetism, de Sica has drawn from [the] boy an unparalleled child performance, it is the man who is his symbol of the human plight. He is the helpless individual, herded with, yet isolated from his fellows, who is caught in a situation. To de Sica and many Italians who have absorbed their Kafka and Sartre, this is the general theme of the century. It might be said to parallel the situation of Italy herself.

The story of that heartrending Sunday search after the stolen bicycle is now too familiar to bear retelling. Its simplicity, far from being evidence of slightness, is the outcome of a discipline that has rigorously set itself against any facile effects of "poetry", but has evolved a complex pattern of mood and incident. The ironies, humours, oddities and heartbreaks of this adventure in the modern jungle connect with the experience of any town-dweller who has been isolated at some time or times by misfortune, great or small, and finds his familiar world suddenly hostile and strange.

Bicycle Thieves is the true genre movie, and a superlative exercise in screen realism….

de Sica's lifetime of experience in the theatre and cinema as a leading man and comedian … may account for his power to compel those flawless performances from his amateurs. But it is a painter's instinct … which enriches his films with such comprehensive detail. His detached compassion, his sense of irony, his tolerant understanding, are the fruits of long study of his fellow men in difficult times. Anger does not show in his films, and anger is a concomitant of hope. Yet I do not find the conclusion of Bicycle Thieves wholly pessimistic. Comradeship did to some extent sustain this man and doubtless, one feels, will do so again.

With Bicycle Thieves, de Sica considers he has sufficiently exploited "realism" for the moment. An artist who has found his true medium somewhat late in life, he possesses an unpredictable capacity for development. And in Cesare Zavattini he has found the scriptwriter who can play Prévert to his Carné. Their next film (the third of the trilogy which Shoeshine started), will essay a new form—"irrealism". (p. 28)

Richard Winnington, "Films of the Month: 'Bicycle Thieves'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1950 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 19, No. 1, March, 1950, pp. 26-8.

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