Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bicycle Thieves in Italy - Revision

            A pinnacle in the Italian Neorealist movement, the 1948 film The Bicycle Thief focuses on a man’s search for his stolen bike. Though seemingly simple, Antonio has a family to support and has been unemployed for some time. When he is finally offered a job, it is only to find that he must own his own bicycle. Desperate, he pawns his sheets to purchase a new bike. It is stolen his first day. Through all of this, the film employs techniques from the Italian Neorealism movement in order to emphasize the hardships experienced by normal, working class families during this time, illustrating reality.
            The Italian Neorealism movement developed out of a desire for freedom from the conventions of typical Italian cinema. The lavishness of films created under Mussolini was no longer appealing to the younger generation of directors. White-telephone films, dramas focused on the upper-middle class, began to seem forced, artificial. Directors wanted to make films that represented the lives of the majority, not the privileged minority. As a result, they created movies about actual social conditions, actual lives, rather than the optimistic, wished conditions that were more commonly marketed.
       Centered on an economic conflict, as is common in neorealism, The Bicycle Thief is about a poor family’s struggle for better lives. There are no miracle fixes. There is no release in the slew of bad luck that attacks them, something that many impoverished families experienced during the time. When the bike is stolen, no one runs after the thief with Antonio, no matter how hard he yells. He is left alone. His desperation leads him to steal another bike, and when he does, men swarm all around him, easily bringing him down, causing his failure where “his” thief succeeded. He cannot catch a break from the onslaught of reality, unable to even steal his way to a decent life. This emphasizes that for some, reality is painful. No matter what they try or how hard they try, they are unable to break free from their problems. Others, such as the man Antonio tries to steal the bike from, are just more fortunate.
            This leads into the idea of limited awareness. It is impossible to know all of reality. We are only aware of the things we see, are only able to process events through a subjective filter made up of our emotions and past experiences. We are only aware of the universe up through the present moment. There is no way for us to see ahead to determine what is to come.
This concept of ambiguity was replicated in the neorealist movement. Aspects of reality were left open, unclear as to what direction they would turn. In The Bicycle Thief, the entire ending is left as such. We know that he did not find his bike. However, he and his son are still alive, still have the ability to walk down the street together. It is possible that the bike may be returned someday, or maybe he’ll find a new job, or maybe the family will even succumb to their conditions. The point is not what will happen, but that we do not know, as would be the case for the father and son in that moment. This carries over into the idea that neorealist films tend to have unhappy endings - Antonio’s inability to locate his bike - emphasizing idea that life is harsh and doesn’t always work out as planned.
            In terms of aesthetics, non-actors were often cast in starring roles during this movement. In this film, Antonio himself was not actually an actor. He was cast because for the role in question, having someone who worked and survived in the real world, someone who wouldn’t see the story as a fantasy but would instead see it as something true, provided a more truthful performance. The lead was someone who could relate to the story on a personal level. Therefore, the film’s realism was increased by casting a real factory worker as the lead role.
            Further, The Bicycle Thief largely takes place outside, Antonio and his son wandering the city, the country at the outskirts. Many neorealist films had to shoot on location. As a result, directors did not manufacture the world around the story. Instead, the characters simply live and exist in the same space as real human beings, adding to the realism of the films. In doing so, the directors added to the overall goal of the movement: representing reality.

Through all of this, The Bicycle Thief created a world in line with the values and directives of the Italian Neorealism movement. The poverty of the family reflects the real world issues that people were suffering from, allowing the audience to view life as it is rather than life as someone dreams it to be.


Reading on Italian Neorealism (1942-1951)

Chesire, Godfrey. "Bicycle Thieves: A Passionate Commitment to the Real." The Criterion Collection. 12 Feb 2007. Web. 14 Nov 2013.

1 comment:

  1. CLARIFY: I definitely was clear on your thesis. I wasn't completely sure why you switched around some of your paragraphs in the revision, but I wouldn't say the change in organization was a bad thing. It was just different.

    VALUE: Good revision from a good original post. You had several concrete points that you carefully explained and proved with your examples. I liked that you included some pictures to make it more visually interesting.

    CONCERNS: I think the only point that I feel like you didn't go into very deeply was about the use of locations. I think having more specific scene examples of how the setting is working in the film would be important to add if you are going to bring up the natural setting. Great work overall, though.