When Antonio Ricci’s bicycle is stolen, jeopardizing his employment posting bills, his subsequent search forces him to realize that he is not only seeking the actual vehicle and the wealth that it will bring him and his family but also struggling to follow his morals and maintain his integrity.
Ricci had been given a lucky break, a well-paying job that could help his family escape their destitute and desultory existence but his joy is curtailed when the bicycle that he needs to do his job is stolen. The next day, he crosses the city with his son Bruno, encountering a complete spectrum of characters from beggars to bourgeois and from prostitutes to priests. Ricci may have a narrow focus – reclaiming his bicycle – but he allows his perspective to waver and loses sight of what really matters.
One incident in the middle of the film shows Ricci following a man who he believes knows The Bicycle Thief. He had told Bruno to wait on the top of the bridge and when he hears cries for help because a boy is drowning, he is not sure whether to pursue the man or rescue the boy. He contemplates that it might be Bruno and decides to render assistance, only to find that it is another boy and that he has been rescued by others. Afterwards, he takes Bruno to lunch in a nice restaurant and speaks optimistically about how “there is a cure for everything, except death” and announces that the family will be alright.
Later, he locates the thief but without firm evidence, he cannot press charges. In a moment of desperation, he lowers himself to stealing another bicycle. He is caught in the act but the owner pardons him when he sees the desperation on Bruno’s face. At the end of the day, he still does not have a bicycle and has lost a great deal more, especially in the eyes of his son. The ultimate goal was not to regain his property so he could resume his job but teach his son a lesson about morals and Ricci failed on both counts.
The neorealism of Vittorio de Sica’s film is very influential. Today, there are many low-budget films that focus on an impoverished aspect of society but the idea was innovative at the time. The entire film was shot on location in Rome, showcasing all parts of the city, not only the tourist attractions.
The despair of citizens in post-war Italy is shown by the crowded pawn shop and lengthy unemployment lines. Some seek answers from oracles or religion, others from alcohol or sex. Nobody is satisfied unless they take charge of their existence and try to improve their situation.
In every city, there are people facing desultory circumstances but they must overcome these obstacles and move forward. Also, not every life has a happy ending so it is natural that some films must end in an ambiguous or sad fashion. The unemployed or homeless still have families to support. The police or wealthier citizens may look down upon the indigent but their position does not provide them with any greater moral authority. From among the high and low, nobody is necessarily good or bad, merely individuals trying to make their way through life. ****