Bicycle Thieves

Bicycle Thieves ★★★★★

It’s been years since a film has moved me to tears. But if there’s one film that can melt even the most stone-hearted of viewers, it is Bicycle Thieves. I can’t quite explain what it’s about because I don’t know, really. It follows a man named Antonio, thin as a scarecrow, as he tries to make a living. He needs a bicycle for the job he is lucky enough to get, but his bicycle gets stolen, and he roams the city trying to get it back, his little son dragging along behind him.

But Bicycle Thieves isn’t about that bicycle, really. It’s about fathers and sons, about the way the poor steal from each other because somebody else steals from them all. It’s a study in melancholy, the kind of film that leaves a deep ache in your heart because it refuses to lie. Bicycle Thieves is a window into life itself.

And God, the imagery. Antonio’s haggard face as he stares hungrily about him, surrounded by bicycles but powerless to take any of them. The way his son Bruno’s face lights up when Antonio asks him if he would like to eat pizza. The stark anonymity of the apartment buildings, showing the kind of Italy we don’t really want to see, an Italy that has more to do with all-encompassing hunger and pain than with history and romance. The last three minutes. Bruno’s eyes, enormous and aghast in recognition of the hopelessness of his young life.

Films always put things into perspective. I’ve been agonizing over the past month about my freshman year at university, the way it has completely shaken my confidence in myself by making me question whether I’m even half as intelligent as I thought I was. But for fuck’s sake, I’m lucky enough to get a free ride through university, to be able to live at home, to have parents who care. I’m not fighting for mere survival. How many people in the world are lucky enough to be able to say that?

Bicycle Thieves isn’t a melodrama. It doesn’t seek to exploit our emotions, and as a result, we trust our reactions to it. I didn’t cry because the film’s primary purpose is to manipulate my emotions. I cried because I felt for Antonio, for Bruno especially. I cried because I recognized the way the hunger for money maddens fathers and steals away the innocence of sons. Bicycle Thieves refuses to lie to us, to assure us that everything will somehow one day be okay.

From what I’ve seen of classic world cinema, I can pull a few broad generalizations: the French act as though they have no emotions. The Americans and the Indians wring out false happiness and tragedy from the most mundane of situations: life in their movies is life lived at top volume. And the Italians, well, the Italians don’t hide their melancholy. They are often loud and merry, yes, but they are melancholy, and they know it, and their films are saturated with it, and it is nothing to amplify or to attempt to forget. Their melancholy just is. And it all started with this beautiful film.

Bicycle Thieves is one of those few precious films that remind you not only of the beauty of cinema, but of the fragility of life itself. It is, in short, perfect.

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