Bicycle Thieves And Italian Neo Realism Film Studies Essay

2261 words (9 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 Film Studies Reference this

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It is evident that Italian Neorealism and the life of post-war shaped the film Bicycle Thieves (1948). However, with much debate, one can argue that the sentimental nature of the film overwhelms the films potential to make a forceful political statement. With reference to important scenes from the film, Italian neorealist principles and the usage of sentiment; one can justifiably claim that the forceful political statement is not overwhelmed by sentiment, and in fact enhances the message the film aims to give off.

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Neorealism was an influential and significant movement in film history, which took place in Italy at the ending of World War II. Italy moved from fascism and dictatorship, whereby much was revolved around a single-party state seen in World War I, to an equal and democratic society. This change in society brought about characteristics and principles which became noticeable in cinema during this time period. These principles not only molded the film Bicycle Thieves, but were used to bring about a message to the audience.

The filmmakers and directors believed they had an ethical responsibility to use cinema to promote the social change that had just occurred post the war. Ideally, it wasn’t so much about the storyline of the film, but more about making the public aware of the difficulties that working people had to face. Here we see a Marxist approach on the rebuilding of Italy – whereby unlike the mythology of Classic Hollywood, no single person can change the world and the ultimate society would be a classless society.

Neorealism’s origin of strength lies in the documentary excellence which is used to portray the realism of the story. One might speculate what Bicycle Thieves would be like in colour, however the black and white aspect highlights the tone of the film being a bleak, depressing emotion – contrary to the usage of colour which would highlight liveliness and energy and go against the tone of the film. Thus, clearly showing that the sentiment brings about the tone of the film which enhances the message of presenting the gloomy conditions of poverty in post-war Italy. The reconstituted reportage, based on daily life and events, also adds more ‘truth’ to the film and is not the making of a documentary but rather shown and seen in a documentary-type way and aids to make available the focus of temporary altering and moving from one area or subject to another.

Truth is an important principle of neorealism, as truth brings realism. This can be seen through the truth of the characters, lighting, location, décor, camera shots, camera angles and editing. This not only brings about authenticity but also creates a much stronger message for the audience. In Bicycle Thieves, there is a correlation between truth and sentiment, and truth and the political statement – Which are justifiably both used in this film without over powering one another in order to positively enhance the films message. Inevitably, in order for a director to get an actual event (post-war) understood by his audience – truth and realism is the most effective approach.

Neorealism focuses on the characters and themes without much focus on the plot itself as the plot is seen to warp the truth about people. Thus, the film would’ve not only been boring if there was no sentiment (due to there not being enough material if there was no storyline about characters), but to know and understand a situation, one must be put in a position where you have the opportunity of learning a great deal about the faith and frustrations of a human being. Equally, a boring film is a failed film. Through this, neorealist’s are able to portray truth to a greater extend through bringing about simplicity yet a means of understanding the ‘real’ life; a main appeal in films even today.

The storyline being as simple as the search for a bicycle doesn’t take the political statement too far away from the message. Likewise, the actual characters in the film are everyday normal people. The workman was found in the factory, the child was wondering around the streets and the wife was a writer. This is known as ‘Typage’ whereby there is no star system which immediately creates a far more realistic/truth approach and feel. Similarly, the locations and décor are real and not built-up or made-up, the lighting is natural which attempts to present reality as it is, the editing is invincible which enhances truth and the camera is free which is unrestricted and brings about a far more convincing viewing.

With the storyline of the characters and the truth which is by principle brought about, I fully agree that it brings about sentiment. However, It puts you (the audience) in a far more heart-felt and understanding position which I believe brings about the political statement in a far more expressive way, rather than a theoretical and cold approach. And as some agree, “it’s not even sentimental – it’s just painful.” (REFERENCE 6)

Instead of a cold theoretical approach, we are introduced to a family who are ordinary and by no means are glamorous hero’s – which is commonly seen in Classical Hollywood. Quite frankly, if we weren’t introduced to characters and the sentiment they bring, which play a role in this film, I personally don’t think much of a political statement would be made – as one needs interest to grasp a statement. The character of Ricci is the focus of the film, however we are not interested in him but rather what will happen next in the film’s sequence of events. And even though characters bring about sentiment and the viewer starts becoming attached to the role the characters plays, in Bicycle Thieves, Bruno the son unsentimentally still criticizes his father.

In response to the representation of the political statement made in this film, we are clearly able to see this in noticeable scenes in the film. In the first scene, the camera follows Ricci from the unemployment gathering to his wife where the housing project is in the background, which is fully exhibited to the viewer showing the bleak conditions. We see the men and woman arguing about employment and shortage of water. This emphasis on long and medium shots which appeals to the ‘truth’ in the film enhances the political message due to the events getting exhibited on a whole – Whereas close up would bring more sentiment. Long and medium shots show the actor loosely framed in his environment and allow the viewer opportunity to look around in that environment with the added enhancement of the shots taken at eye level. As well as minimized jumps and shifts through editing to bring more ‘real life’ to the cinema audience.

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Thus we see here that sentiment is not overwhelming the political statement, but rather the political statement is actually taking dominance in the shots. Of course the neorealist did move in for close-up’s every now and then which in effect is therefore very strong and still strings along the story of the characters and the central object, which is needed to (as mentioned earlier) keep the audience interested and not bored. The central object is the bicycle. They are everywhere and yet precious, and the frailty of the Ricci family’s position is enforced when Antonio’s bicycle is stolen. Here, the object brings sentiment to enforce the political statement, and what I find even more interesting is how the title changed from ‘Bicycle Thief” to “Bicycle Thieves” as ultimately it becomes a vicious cycle of survival – as one has to steal their own bicycle back from the thief, therefore becoming a thief – resulting in ‘thieves.’

This therefore constitutes to the message of the film, for the continuous struggle of the haves and have-nots. Through the character of Antonio, It is the hope that drives him and allows him to move on in his quest to find his stolen bicycle. Although the directors glumness drives the plot, it is ultimately the clash with human optimism which gives the film affective power – and without the human sentiment one can argue that the film would not produce affective power. If we look at three scenes, we are able to see how sentiment brings power to the political statement.

In one scene we see Antonio and Maria trade in their bed linen. The camera moves away from them and we see the heaps of bed-linen behind the counter, a tacit bleak reminder of the extensive nature of unemployment while recognizing its effect on the heart of families’ household lives. Again we see how realistic the lighting is and the framing is loose to incorporate the environmental conditions to promote the political message.

In another scene we see Ricci reporting his bicycle stolen and is directed by the policeman to the piles of alike reported cases. His account and circumstances are not singular, and we see here how it is not only this family that is going through this – but also a lot of people. Thus portraying the political message that goes beyond this family’s personal sentiment. Here we are also shown how humanitarianism prohibited Ricci from pressing official charges anti the thief, and the same moral fiber that spared him after he was caught stealing a bicycle. After seeing Bruno in tears, the sufferer understood Ricci’s condition and let him go.

Such a film was essential in Italy as through this family we have the opportunity of being a bystander to the brutality of a civil war between fascists and its on going of killing and reprisals through seeing how this effects one, and how not only effecting this family – but many others. “Italy in post-war was in need of healing and compassion even at the cost of a perceived injustice.” (Paul Baxa, 2011) Healing does not come from the government and leaders of the country, but come from within the everyday man on the streets – you and me. Thus, from the Ricci’s, those being affected by the war and living within such conditions – as well as the audience viewing this film who can in many ways relate.

In another scene, arguably the most sentimental scene – yet what I believe portrays the political message more powerfully than any other- we see the father and sons relationship come to a mend. It is understood with looking into the Italian family lifestyle, that the father and son’s relationship is by far the strongest and most special. Little Bruno’s appearance when taking his fathers hand in the last scene is merely a realistic point of life and is a means of facing life with your father – an important part in Italian culture. With Bruno being the witness of the tragedy and finally coming to realize his father is not a hero after all (contrary to Classic Hollywood), much like the audience being a witness too, this scene gives off a sense of aggravation, humiliation, paradox and most of all – acceptance to survival. These sentimental feelings therefore expresses the political statement as this ending of when the father and son take hands, expresses manhood and the hardship and survival one needs to go through with still looking for a sense of acceptance.

Bicycle Thieves therefore inevitably portrayed the political statement through expressing the social conditions without expressing solutions. One might argue that this is a downfall, however at this moment in time – solutions were not theoretical and if healing was going to occur it was going to have to come from the people. Thus, this film is inevitably awareness that needs to be found in each individual, which will create its own solution. Much like the theme and characters inevitably creating a plot on its own in Neorealism. “The neorealist approach doesn’t have an inbuilt political meaning solution, as the most widespread attribute of neorealism is; on location shooting and the feeling of truth.” (REFERENCE) – Exactly what Bicycle Thieves so effectively does. One must also remember when viewing this film in the 21st century that twenty-five percent of the Italian workforce was unemployed at the time and if you were employed, getting to work was with the use of a bicycle. The object of the bicycle thus symbolized survival.

In conclusion, one can therefore justifiably argue that the sentimental nature of Bicycle Thieves does not overwhelm the political statement but essentially enhances it. If the political statement made in the film was to feed off a means of a solution, and the solution could only be found in the common individual like the Ricci’s family – then one needs to understand the individual’s situation as well as have an opportunity to walk in their shoes. Through sentiment that is not overly used in this film, one can see the hardship for survival through the story of these characters in order to become aware, as well as stay intrigued. Without focalizing power of the central character but rather the political statement through the characters, this film uses “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.” (Joseph Stalin, 1953) to it’s advantage by effectively showing the tragedy of individuals with indication to the masses statistic.

It is evident that Italian Neorealism and the life of post-war shaped the film Bicycle Thieves (1948). However, with much debate, one can argue that the sentimental nature of the film overwhelms the films potential to make a forceful political statement. With reference to important scenes from the film, Italian neorealist principles and the usage of sentiment; one can justifiably claim that the forceful political statement is not overwhelmed by sentiment, and in fact enhances the message the film aims to give off.

Neorealism was an influential and significant movement in film history, which took place in Italy at the ending of World War II. Italy moved from fascism and dictatorship, whereby much was revolved around a single-party state seen in World War I, to an equal and democratic society. This change in society brought about characteristics and principles which became noticeable in cinema during this time period. These principles not only molded the film Bicycle Thieves, but were used to bring about a message to the audience.

The filmmakers and directors believed they had an ethical responsibility to use cinema to promote the social change that had just occurred post the war. Ideally, it wasn’t so much about the storyline of the film, but more about making the public aware of the difficulties that working people had to face. Here we see a Marxist approach on the rebuilding of Italy – whereby unlike the mythology of Classic Hollywood, no single person can change the world and the ultimate society would be a classless society.

Neorealism’s origin of strength lies in the documentary excellence which is used to portray the realism of the story. One might speculate what Bicycle Thieves would be like in colour, however the black and white aspect highlights the tone of the film being a bleak, depressing emotion – contrary to the usage of colour which would highlight liveliness and energy and go against the tone of the film. Thus, clearly showing that the sentiment brings about the tone of the film which enhances the message of presenting the gloomy conditions of poverty in post-war Italy. The reconstituted reportage, based on daily life and events, also adds more ‘truth’ to the film and is not the making of a documentary but rather shown and seen in a documentary-type way and aids to make available the focus of temporary altering and moving from one area or subject to another.

Truth is an important principle of neorealism, as truth brings realism. This can be seen through the truth of the characters, lighting, location, décor, camera shots, camera angles and editing. This not only brings about authenticity but also creates a much stronger message for the audience. In Bicycle Thieves, there is a correlation between truth and sentiment, and truth and the political statement – Which are justifiably both used in this film without over powering one another in order to positively enhance the films message. Inevitably, in order for a director to get an actual event (post-war) understood by his audience – truth and realism is the most effective approach.

Neorealism focuses on the characters and themes without much focus on the plot itself as the plot is seen to warp the truth about people. Thus, the film would’ve not only been boring if there was no sentiment (due to there not being enough material if there was no storyline about characters), but to know and understand a situation, one must be put in a position where you have the opportunity of learning a great deal about the faith and frustrations of a human being. Equally, a boring film is a failed film. Through this, neorealist’s are able to portray truth to a greater extend through bringing about simplicity yet a means of understanding the ‘real’ life; a main appeal in films even today.

The storyline being as simple as the search for a bicycle doesn’t take the political statement too far away from the message. Likewise, the actual characters in the film are everyday normal people. The workman was found in the factory, the child was wondering around the streets and the wife was a writer. This is known as ‘Typage’ whereby there is no star system which immediately creates a far more realistic/truth approach and feel. Similarly, the locations and décor are real and not built-up or made-up, the lighting is natural which attempts to present reality as it is, the editing is invincible which enhances truth and the camera is free which is unrestricted and brings about a far more convincing viewing.

With the storyline of the characters and the truth which is by principle brought about, I fully agree that it brings about sentiment. However, It puts you (the audience) in a far more heart-felt and understanding position which I believe brings about the political statement in a far more expressive way, rather than a theoretical and cold approach. And as some agree, “it’s not even sentimental – it’s just painful.” (REFERENCE 6)

Instead of a cold theoretical approach, we are introduced to a family who are ordinary and by no means are glamorous hero’s – which is commonly seen in Classical Hollywood. Quite frankly, if we weren’t introduced to characters and the sentiment they bring, which play a role in this film, I personally don’t think much of a political statement would be made – as one needs interest to grasp a statement. The character of Ricci is the focus of the film, however we are not interested in him but rather what will happen next in the film’s sequence of events. And even though characters bring about sentiment and the viewer starts becoming attached to the role the characters plays, in Bicycle Thieves, Bruno the son unsentimentally still criticizes his father.

In response to the representation of the political statement made in this film, we are clearly able to see this in noticeable scenes in the film. In the first scene, the camera follows Ricci from the unemployment gathering to his wife where the housing project is in the background, which is fully exhibited to the viewer showing the bleak conditions. We see the men and woman arguing about employment and shortage of water. This emphasis on long and medium shots which appeals to the ‘truth’ in the film enhances the political message due to the events getting exhibited on a whole – Whereas close up would bring more sentiment. Long and medium shots show the actor loosely framed in his environment and allow the viewer opportunity to look around in that environment with the added enhancement of the shots taken at eye level. As well as minimized jumps and shifts through editing to bring more ‘real life’ to the cinema audience.

Thus we see here that sentiment is not overwhelming the political statement, but rather the political statement is actually taking dominance in the shots. Of course the neorealist did move in for close-up’s every now and then which in effect is therefore very strong and still strings along the story of the characters and the central object, which is needed to (as mentioned earlier) keep the audience interested and not bored. The central object is the bicycle. They are everywhere and yet precious, and the frailty of the Ricci family’s position is enforced when Antonio’s bicycle is stolen. Here, the object brings sentiment to enforce the political statement, and what I find even more interesting is how the title changed from ‘Bicycle Thief” to “Bicycle Thieves” as ultimately it becomes a vicious cycle of survival – as one has to steal their own bicycle back from the thief, therefore becoming a thief – resulting in ‘thieves.’

This therefore constitutes to the message of the film, for the continuous struggle of the haves and have-nots. Through the character of Antonio, It is the hope that drives him and allows him to move on in his quest to find his stolen bicycle. Although the directors glumness drives the plot, it is ultimately the clash with human optimism which gives the film affective power – and without the human sentiment one can argue that the film would not produce affective power. If we look at three scenes, we are able to see how sentiment brings power to the political statement.

In one scene we see Antonio and Maria trade in their bed linen. The camera moves away from them and we see the heaps of bed-linen behind the counter, a tacit bleak reminder of the extensive nature of unemployment while recognizing its effect on the heart of families’ household lives. Again we see how realistic the lighting is and the framing is loose to incorporate the environmental conditions to promote the political message.

In another scene we see Ricci reporting his bicycle stolen and is directed by the policeman to the piles of alike reported cases. His account and circumstances are not singular, and we see here how it is not only this family that is going through this – but also a lot of people. Thus portraying the political message that goes beyond this family’s personal sentiment. Here we are also shown how humanitarianism prohibited Ricci from pressing official charges anti the thief, and the same moral fiber that spared him after he was caught stealing a bicycle. After seeing Bruno in tears, the sufferer understood Ricci’s condition and let him go.

Such a film was essential in Italy as through this family we have the opportunity of being a bystander to the brutality of a civil war between fascists and its on going of killing and reprisals through seeing how this effects one, and how not only effecting this family – but many others. “Italy in post-war was in need of healing and compassion even at the cost of a perceived injustice.” (Paul Baxa, 2011) Healing does not come from the government and leaders of the country, but come from within the everyday man on the streets – you and me. Thus, from the Ricci’s, those being affected by the war and living within such conditions – as well as the audience viewing this film who can in many ways relate.

In another scene, arguably the most sentimental scene – yet what I believe portrays the political message more powerfully than any other- we see the father and sons relationship come to a mend. It is understood with looking into the Italian family lifestyle, that the father and son’s relationship is by far the strongest and most special. Little Bruno’s appearance when taking his fathers hand in the last scene is merely a realistic point of life and is a means of facing life with your father – an important part in Italian culture. With Bruno being the witness of the tragedy and finally coming to realize his father is not a hero after all (contrary to Classic Hollywood), much like the audience being a witness too, this scene gives off a sense of aggravation, humiliation, paradox and most of all – acceptance to survival. These sentimental feelings therefore expresses the political statement as this ending of when the father and son take hands, expresses manhood and the hardship and survival one needs to go through with still looking for a sense of acceptance.

Bicycle Thieves therefore inevitably portrayed the political statement through expressing the social conditions without expressing solutions. One might argue that this is a downfall, however at this moment in time – solutions were not theoretical and if healing was going to occur it was going to have to come from the people. Thus, this film is inevitably awareness that needs to be found in each individual, which will create its own solution. Much like the theme and characters inevitably creating a plot on its own in Neorealism. “The neorealist approach doesn’t have an inbuilt political meaning solution, as the most widespread attribute of neorealism is; on location shooting and the feeling of truth.” (REFERENCE) – Exactly what Bicycle Thieves so effectively does. One must also remember when viewing this film in the 21st century that twenty-five percent of the Italian workforce was unemployed at the time and if you were employed, getting to work was with the use of a bicycle. The object of the bicycle thus symbolized survival.

In conclusion, one can therefore justifiably argue that the sentimental nature of Bicycle Thieves does not overwhelm the political statement but essentially enhances it. If the political statement made in the film was to feed off a means of a solution, and the solution could only be found in the common individual like the Ricci’s family – then one needs to understand the individual’s situation as well as have an opportunity to walk in their shoes. Through sentiment that is not overly used in this film, one can see the hardship for survival through the story of these characters in order to become aware, as well as stay intrigued. Without focalizing power of the central character but rather the political statement through the characters, this film uses “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.” (Joseph Stalin, 1953) to it’s advantage by effectively showing the tragedy of individuals with indication to the masses statistic.

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