Bicycle Thieves ★★★★

A window directly into the past. It's hard to imagine what seeing Bicycle Thieves in 1948 would have been like. Now the movie feels like a time capsule, a bit of visual tourism to another time and place. As a central work of neorealism, Bicycle Thieves keeps things simple. In the post-WW2 depression, a guy needs a bike to do his job and feed his family. When it's stolen, he begins a desperate search for the thief. That's basically the entire movie. Looking for a bike isn't the most thrilling plot point, but it's used to move across parts of Italy and showcase what life is like for the poor. Little things like how packed the church is that is offering free food take on more meaning when you stop and think about them. As is common for these films, it takes a humanizing look at the lower class. The police aren't much help, but several other people in presumably similar situations are willing to take their time to aid in the search. There's a clear line drawn where even the intense harm done by the titular theft is likely to have been done out of a similar need to get by. Late in the film, when people are presented with a chance at a sort of retribution, they don't take it. Again, it's not malice that turns the poor against one another, just self-interest and terrible circumstances. Perhaps the bicycle thieves and the honest, hardworking citizens aren't so different.

In all elements it remains an understated, subtle film. Music frequently plays, but it's low in the mix and never leads emotions, just serving to add a little life to the environment. The cast, primarily non-professional actors, feel like real people; I especially love that adorable child. They're endearing without having to really try to be. And smart cinematography and editing keep the film visually engaging and flowing well in ways that never really draw attention to themselves. Events just unfold, nothing feels artificial.

All together it's a quietly sad, unpretentious film that is consistently interesting. In all honesty I think my tastes trend a little more towards (the "right kind" of) spectacle, and I also have a bit of a preference for the way social realists like Loach would continue this style but rip your heart out even harder. Can't deny that it's a great film, though; I have essentially zero substantial complaints. It just doesn't quite connect with and reach me the way my absolute favorites do.

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