Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
March 29, 2016 by Dennis Amith
Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” is a brilliant film of the Italian neorealism genre and a true masterpiece of not just the genre but of cinema in general. Highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 1972 by Richard Feiner and Company, Inc. 2016 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374
YEAR OF FILM: 1948
DURATION: 89 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Italian Monaural with English SDH Subtitles
COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: March 29, 2016
Directed by Vittorio De Sica
Based on the novel by Luigi Bartolini
Story by Cesare Zavattini
Screenplay by Oreste Biancoli, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Vittorio De Sica, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi, Gerardo Guerrieri, Cesare Zavattini
Produced by Giuseppe Amato
Music by Alessandro Cicogini
Cinematography by Carlo Montuori
Edited by Eraldo Da Roma
Production Design by Antonio Traverso
Lamberto Maggiorani as Antonio Ricci
Enzo Staiola as Bruno Ricci
Lianella Carell as Maria Ricci
Gino Saltamerenda as Baiocco
Hailed around the world as one of the greatest movies ever made, the Academy Award–winning Bicycle Thieves, directed by Vittorio De Sica, defined an era in cinema. In poverty-stricken postwar Rome, a man is on his first day of a new job that offers hope of salvation for his desperate family when his bicycle, which he needs for work, is stolen. With his young son in tow, he sets off to track down the thief. Simple in construction and profoundly rich in human insight, Bicycle Thieves embodies the greatest strengths of the Italian neorealist movement: emotional clarity, social rectitude, and brutal honesty.
Considered as one of the greatest films of Italian neorealism and one of the greatest films of all time, “Ladri di biciclette” (Bicycle Thieves) receives the HD treatment on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
Directed by Vittorio De Sica (“Umberto D.”, “Indiscretion of an American Wife”, “Boccaccio ’70”), the 1948 film stars Lamberto Maggiorani (“Mamma Roma”, “Attention! Bandits!”, “Don Camillo e l’on Peppone”), Enzo Staiola (“The Barefoot Contessa”, “Times Gone By”, “Lucky Nick Cain”), Lianella Carrell (“The Gold of Naples”, “Love and Troubles”, “Me, Me Me…and the Others”) and Gino Saltamerenda (“When Love Calls”, “The Thief of Venice”).
“Bicycle Thieves” is set in post-World War II Val Melaina in Rome.
Antonio Ricci (portrayed by Lamberto Maggiorani) is down on his luck about not making any income for his family and he is becoming desperate.
One day, he is offered a job to post advertising bills, but there is one thing he needs to get the job…he must own a bicycle.
His wife Maria (portrayed by Lianella Carell) sells the family bedsheets to a pawn shop which she acquired as part of the dowry and is the family’s prized possession. And the money they get back is enough for Antonio to purchase a pawned Fides bicycle.
The couple are excited and can’t wait to be making money, meanwhile his son Bruno (portrayed by Enzo Staiola) is concerned about the bikes maintenance.
On the first day of work, Antonio out on a job is posting an advertising bill and his bicycle is stolen by a thief. And as Antonio tries to chase him down, he is thrown off the trail by one of the thief’s comrades, who pretends to be a good Samaritan that is helping out Antonio.
While Antonio goes to the police, they don’t do anything. Desperate to get his bicycle back, as he needs it to work, Antonio and a friend check out Piazza Vittorio market, where many stolen bike parts are sold.
Persistent about getting his job back, how far will Antonio go to find it?
“Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374” is presented in 1:37:1 aspect ratio in black and white and presented in 1080p High Definition. The film looks amazing as the picture quality is well-contrast. Black levels are nice and deep, white and grays are sharp and the film looks fantastic in HD!
According to the Criterion Collection, “this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scannity film scanner from a 35 mm optical safety fine-grain master made from the original nitrate negative. The restoration was performed by Digital Film Restore in Chennai, India.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
As for the lossless audio, “Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374” is presented in Italian LPCM 1.0. Dialogue is clear without any buzzing, hiss or crackle.
According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and Izotope RX 4.”
Subtitles are in English SDH.
“Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374” comes with the following special features:
- Working with De Sica – (22:40) Interviews with film scholar Callisto Cosulich and “Bicycle Thieves” co-screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico and actor Enzo Staiola.
- Life As It Is: The Neorealist Movement in Italy – (39:56) Film scholar Mark Shiel, author of “Italian neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City” discusses the history of Italian neorealism and the place of “Bicycle Thieves” within the movement.
- Cesare Zavattini – (55:38) A documentary directed by Carlo Lizzani, exploring writer Cesare Zavattini’s career and more.
“Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374” comes with a 36-page booklet with the essay “A Passionate Commitment to the Real” by Geoffrey Cheshire, “Bicycle Thieves: Rememberances” by Vittorio De Sica, Lianella Carell, Luisa Alessandri, Sergio Leone, Manuel De Sica and Maria Mercader.
Actor Vittorio De Sica is well-known in Italian cinema, considering De Sica has appeared on the big screen since 1917.
His big break as a director would begin in 1940 with “Rose scarlatte” but his big break would come in 1944 with “The Children Are Watching Us”, the first collaboration with writer Cesare Zavattini.
Exploring real struggles during post-war Italy, Italian neorealism showed audiences the struggles which Italians faced. And while Roberto Rosselini would be started by Roberto Rossellini’s 1945 film “Rome, Open City”, De Sica and Zavattini wanted to give viewers a new degree of realism.
By 1945, De Sica would show the world the destruction of childish innocence with his film “Shoeshine”.
But it’s his 1948 film “Bicycle Thieves” and followed by his 1952 film “Umberto D.” which resonates strongly with audiences and also with me.
What makes these films work is that the emphasis is not purely on the characters but the unfortunate times they are living in. Post-war Italy was no doubt desperate times as work was scarce, families starved and it pushed people to do things they would have never have done.
De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” utilizes the mise-en-scene style of his previous film “Shoeshine” by combining realistic elements and a storyline that is no less gutwrenching. It’s one thing to have a desperate father wanting to provide for his family, but you have a young boy who will do anything to help his father and you see the eyes of a boy who absolutely adores his father, start to see his desperate father change.
De Sica’s characters are representative of not a single person but they represent the people of Italy who were no doubt suffering and were desperate. The portrayals were genuine but yet the film was met with hostility because many felt it portrayed Italians in a negative way.
Granted, it’s understandable why the creator of “Bicycle Thieves” ala the novel was upset because of the departure of De Sica’s patriarch from the novel version which “the protagonist was a middle class intellectual and the theme was the breakdown of civil order in the face of anarchic communism” (according to Robin Healey’s “Twentieth-Century Italian Literature in English Translation: An Annotated Bibliography 1929-1997”).
Personally I felt that as an actor De Sica knew how to bring out a character thanks to his trusting of hiring non-actors for the role of Antonio and Bruno. Both Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola are able to genuinely bring out the bond but also the emotions of these characters, making us believe in the characters but also making us understand where they are coming from.
Could you imagine “Bicycle Thieves” portrayed by popular actors? It could have happened as David Selznick offered to finance the film if De Sica cast Cary Grant for the leading role.
But “Bicycle Thieves” was planned methodically. De Sica choreographed the market vendors, the crowd scenes, down to casting his talent based on facial expressions and walking mannerisms.
But the film showed us that non-actors, no elaborate sets were needed to create a captivating film. A film no doubt which many can see various types of messages, may it be political, socioeconomic issues for that time or even a transition of the bonding between father and son, one can find various messages with each viewing of the film.
As for the 2016 Blu-ray release of “Bicycle Thieves”, having owned this film on LaserDisc and then later via DVD, the Blu-ray is fantastic in the way the film shows much more clarity and sharpness. The contrast and detail are superb and the lossless audio is free from hiss or crackle. While the special features are not numerous, you still get a lengthy documentary on writer Cesare Zavattini, a look at Italian neorealism and “Bicycle Thieves” place for the genre and more.
Overall, Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” is a brilliant film of the Italian neorealism genre and a true masterpiece of not just the genre but of cinema in general.
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