Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) Vittorio de Sica, 1948 is unarguably one of the fundamental films in the history of cinema. It is also one of the most beguiling, moving and (apparently) simple pieces of narrative cinema ever made. The film tells the story of one man and his son, as they search fruitlessly through the streets of Rome for his stolen bicycle; the bicycle which had finally freed him from the poverty and humiliation of longterm unemployment.
One of a cluster of extraordinary films to come out of post-war, post-Fascist Italy after 1945 – loosely labelled ‘neo-realist’ – Bicycle Thieves won an Oscar in 1949, topped the first Sight and Sound poll of the best films of all time in 1952 and has been hugely influential throughout world cinema ever since. It remains a necessary point of reference for any cinematic engagement with the labyrinthine experience of the modern city, the travails of poverty in the contemporary world, the complex bond between fathers and sons, and the capacity of the camera to capture something like the essence of all of these.
Robert S. C. Gordon’s BFI Film Classics volume shows how Bicycle Thieves is ripe for re-viewing, for rescuing from its worthy status as a neo-realist ‘classic’. It looks at the film’s drawn-out planning and production history, the vibrant and riven context in which it was made, and the dynamic geography, geometry and sociology of the film that resulted.