The Bicycle Thief (Ladri Di Biciclette) (1948)
Main Menu Audio & Animation
|Year Of Production||1948|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Vittorio De Sica|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||English||Smoking||Yes, Consistent with era.|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Given the litres of ink that have been spilled about the Bicycle Thief (Ladri Di Bicyclette) since its release in 1948 it is difficult to approach it with pure objectivity. Often seen as the shining example of neo-realist cinema the film has consistently made it into lists of the finest films of the last century. In fact, it was the only film to top the influential Sight and Sound 10 yearly greatest films poll apart from Citizen Kane. Certainly it has all the hallmarks of neo-realism from war torn backdrops, to non-actors in the leads and strong but simple scripts about just surviving in a harsh post-war environment.
The joy of this film is that far from being a museum piece it is an immediate and powerful work of art that transcends time.
The plot of The Bicycle Thief couldn't be any simpler. It is based on a novel and co-scripted by director Vittoria de Sica's longtime collaborator Cesare Zavattin. The Second World War has ended and Italy is in economic and actual ruins. Jobs are scarcer than hen's teeth. Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) is a married man with a young boy, Bruno (Enzo Staiola). His big chance comes when he is selected for a job hanging posters - the only catch is that he needs a bicycle. Though the bicycle is the most common form of transport in post war Rome (leaving aside walking) it is a luxury Antonio cannot afford. He has only just pawned his bicycle to buy food for the family. His wife decides to sell the family linen to buy back the bicycle and Antonio is overjoyed at his big break.
As the title lets you know things turn bad for Antonio when a thief steals his bicycle whilst he is going about his job. The rest of the film is a chronicle of his increasingly unsuccessful attempts, with Bruno at his side, to find the bicycle and keep his job as well as his dignity.
The closing images of the film are unforgettable but I wont spoil them for the first time viewer. Two other scenes do stand out as a testament to the brilliance of de Sica. The first is the moment when the linen is sold. The buyer's clerk takes the sheets and, climbing a huge warehouse shelf, places the linen at the top amongst thousands of others. With this simple image de Sica captures a city at breaking point and we realise how important a simple bicycle is to Antonio and to others like him.
The other unforgettable scene is when Antonio, convinced the bicycle is forever lost, take Bruno to a restaurant. It is far beyond his ordinary means. The scene conveys desperation, happiness and the gulf between rich and poor in just a few minutes.
Repeated viewing of the movie confirms de Sica as a master of composition, for the film is riddled with moments of small action going on behind and around the main action. Rather than being a distraction these little moments enrich the visual poetry of the film.
After his success with Shoe -Shine (Sciuscią) the year before (de Sica won a special Oscar), Hollywood studios knocked and de Sica was offered Cary Grant for the role of Antonio. He countered with Henry Fonda probably due to the downtrodden hero he played in Grapes of Wrath. To his credit and to the relief of film lovers everywhere when the deal fell through de Sica made the film with non-actors in the leads. Of course, Grant or Fonda could have acted the role with their usual skill but there is something about Maggoriani that captures the lean hunger and desperation of Antonioni that actors could never convey. His performance is simple but riveting from beginning to end. Similarly Staiola gives an inspiring performance as Bruno. The cheeky sidekick boy is a staple of Italian cinema but Staiola is the real deal. His reactions are pitch perfect right down to the blend of anger, tears and shame when his father strikes him. It is his performance that captures the heart of the film. It is not a movie about a bicycle but a portrait of a father and son and the twin concerns of dignity and respect.
Aside from the performances of the non-actors the city of Rome plays a major role. Once again it is the look of the city with its beautiful churches contrasted with the poverty and effects of the war that brings home the truth of the piece in a way that no Hollywood studio could hope to do. The mournful score from Alessandro Cogognini is a constant voice in the film sharing the emotional ride of the characters. The Bicycle Thief won a special Academy Award for best foreign language film of 1949.
Although the mood of desperation, heartbreak and poverty may not be to everyone's liking, the straight-forward drama of the film makes it a classic that demands to be seen.
The Bicycle Thief was originally shot on 35mm film at an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. It comes to DVD in a 1.33:1 transfer that does full justice to the original film. The film begins with new credits indicating (as far as I could make out with my poor grasp of Italian) that this is a restored print. It can be difficult to tell how much restoration has gone on with European films from this era as finding a decent source print can be an impossible task. This is no Citizen Kane or Casablanca which have been restored so cleanly that they look brand new. This is a print which exhibits, to varying degrees of seriousness, just about every film defect imaginable. The print is damaged and there are artefacts throughout including a curious blob which resembles a dead fly at 55.56. There are a few sharp edits suggesting irreparably damaged frames, some flickering and a persistent grain throughout. Having said that, for its age it is still acceptable and at times stunning to look at. This is particularly so as the film was largely shot outdoors on location.
The manner of subtitling in this movie may be controversial for some. The subtitles are removable. However, the film is not completely subtitled as there are numerous exchanges throughout that are not translated. My suspicion is that the dialogue not included is routine and that the subtitlers wanted to convey the essentials of the script without overburdening it with words. It was not a big issue for me and, in fact, this is one of those movies you could watch in its native language without missing too much of the story as the plot is simple and the actors clear in their motivations.
Whilst I am gratified to see the film again and believe the video transfer to be adequate this is a film that deserves to be lovingly restored and remastered and I hope that Region 4 gets such a release in the future.
The sound for The Bicycle Thief is Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s). This is adequate for the film but I would still appreciate a digital remastering if only for the haunting and ever-present theme music. Lip sync was generally good despite the obvious use of overdubs in some scenes.
As might be expected there is a persistent hiss under the soundtrack but it was not too annoying. There were a couple of points at which the sound was weak, particularly in the short rear-projected driving scene at 37.44 and examples of distortion through over recording in a few moments such as the church scene at 46.55 and outside the soccer stadium commencing at around the 78 minute mark and following.
Despite these the sound was still adequate and did not detract from the movie.
|Surround Channel Use|
The extras for this movie are highly enjoyable if not specifically appropriate to the movie itself. They also differ from those described on the case.
This is a simple screen accompanied by the dramatic theme of the movie.
This is a long presentation covering the whole of the career of de Sica. Despite the description on the case and on the menu it is actually called Timeless Cinema. It is actually presented by the director himself and seems to have been a live tribute evening of sorts. Anyone with a passing interest in classic cinema or de Sica himself will find this feature a goldmine. The date of filming is unclear but it can't have been too many years before the death of de Sica in 1974. Aside from the live material there are oodles of excerpts from his films as well as on-set interviews on films stretching back to Shoeshine. With this wealth of historical material comes a caveat: the quality of the source material is average, with some of it awash in a greenish tinge. The only other point to note is that there is not that much about The Bicycle Thief itself. This film is almost good enough to release separately so it is a major bonus for this release and makes up for the lack of a critic's commentary of the film itself.
The stills gallery referred to on the rear on the retail case does not appear to be on the DVD.
The trailer is also a strange beast. It is really a short promotion for Miracle in Milan, the next de Sica feature and is "hosted" by the star of that movie. In a funny touch the posters for three de Sica movies at the beginning of the trailer are put up by Lamberto Maggiorani dressed as Antonio!
These are some trailers for some other great Madman releases.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 1 release of The Bicycle Thief apparently has burned in subtitles and is unrestored. It does not have the long feature on the Region 4 edition but does have filmographies and the theatrical trailer.
In my quest to find out more about the restoration process for this DVD I have noted that the English Region 2 release speaks of a new digitally restored transfer. As said above the Region 4 version seems to be a quality assemblage rather than a digital restoration. I have read three reviews of the Region 2 release and the comments the reviewers make as to picture quality are similar to my own. My view is that the Region 4 is the equal of the Region 2 and that the Region 4 is preferable until someone decides to restore it frame by frame.
The Bicycle Thief is a classic movie not just because it represents an important part of film history. There are many historically important movies around that are all but unwatchable now with modern eyes. The Bicycle Thief is not such a movie. It is every bit as powerful, tragic and dramatic now as it was when I first saw it 20 years ago. A more detailed restoration would be nice but overall the movie stands up despite its age and wear. Buy it.
|DVD||Onkyo DV-SP300, using Component output|
|Display||NEC PlasmaSync 42" MP4 1024 x 768. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver.|
|Amplification||Onkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES|
|Speakers||JBL Simply Cinema SCS178 5.1|