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Film / Bicycle Thieves

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"No bicycle, no job."
Antonio's employer

Ladri di biciclette (translating in English as Bicycle Thieves, though it is more commonly known in that language as The Bicycle Thief) is a 1948 Italian drama film directed by Vittorio De Sica. The film is regarded as one of the greatest films ever to come out of Italy, and one of the greatest overall of all time; regularly appearing on various critics' and magazines' lists of the top 10 best ever made and winning the 1950 Academy Honorary Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

In the stagnating slums of post-World War II Rome, Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) is a down-and-out man desperate for a job to support his wife and two children. He finally lands a job putting up posters; but it bears with it the condition that he must own a bicycle. Without one, he's fired. In order to redeem his bike from the pawnbroker, Antonio's wife is forced to pawn their bedsheets (which were a wedding present). But it is worth the loss, for he gets the bike back and it thereby seems they have been delivered from poverty. However; later that day, while Antonio is at work putting up some posters, a young man hops on the bike and rides off with it. Antonio gives chase for a moment but loses the thief. Frantically, he goes to the police, but not realizing the ramifications that having a bike has for Antonio and his family, they refuse to take the theft seriously. When Antonio returns to the scene, all the witnesses to the theft have departed. Thus he and his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) are forced to haplessly wander the streets of Rome searching for the bike themselves...

The plot of Pee-wee's Big Adventure was loosely inspired by that of this film.

This film provides examples of:

  • Butt-Monkey: Poor Antonio gets the shaft in pretty much every way possible. His bike is stolen, the police won't help him, and all attempts to get the bike back result in failure or just make things worse for him. If the saints are looking down from Heaven, they must not see Antonio.
  • Broken Pedestal: Played with. Bruno is utterly heartbroken when he witnesses Antonio attempting to steal a bike for his own. Essentially sinking down to the same level as the thief. However, as his father is publicly humiliated by the mob, Bruno picks up his Antonio's hat and takes his hand as they make their way through the crowd, showing that he still loves him, shame and all.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Frustratingly so.
    • The big example being that when Antonio's bike is stolen, only one guy even tries to help stop him, and that guy followed the wrong bicyclist and the thief gets away. Yet the moment Antonio steals a bike at the end, a huge crowd of bystanders instantly converges and chases him down. And if not for the bike owner feeling sympathetic due to Antonio's son, Antonio would have gone to prison.
  • Cool Shades: The apparent leader of the thief's neighbours has them.
  • Despair Event Horizon: See He Who Fights Monsters.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title not only refers to the people who stole Antonio's bike, but also to Antonio himself, as he himself becomes a bicycle thief in desperation.
  • Downer Ending: Antonio never finds his bicycle, and his attempt to steal another one merely gets him caught. Though he is released when the bicycle owner notices his son Bruno, Antonio is still without a bicycle and unlikely able to keep his new job. His hope of a better life for his family has been dashed, and he's now just back in the same crowd of unemployed that he was before.
  • The Everyman: Antonio Ricci.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film mostly takes place over the course of a single Sunday.
  • Heroic BSoD: Antonio has one when he is caught by the crowd after stealing a bicycle.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: After chasing the thief for a day without getting his bicycle back, Antonio eventually steals a bicycle himself.
  • Hope Spot: The film is full of them. Antonio spots the thief at another market and questions the thief's accomplice (an old man), but he escapes during a Mass service and gives them nothing. Then Antonio actually finds the thief himself, but there is no evidence tying him to the crime and he is let free. Finally, there is the ending, where Antonio himself tries to steal a bike, but is immediately captured and forced into giving it back. Pretty much every chance for things to go right are just fleeting.
  • Karma Houdini: The thief gets no comeuppance for his actions.
  • The Lopsided Arm of the Law: The moment there are competent cops and people willing to band together into a mob and chase down a bicycle thief is the moment when Antonio is the bicycle thief.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The film's final shot has Antonio and Bruno walking away from the camera into a large crowd of people, all of them heading home after the long day.
  • Playing Sick: When Antonio catches up with the thief, he (the thief) pretends to faint.
  • Red Herring: Played with, most minor characters appeared to be important, except they are not the catalysts of the events.
  • Selective Enforcement: Antonio finds the thief, but the police don't arrest him, because there is no proof. When Antonio tries to steal a bicycle himself, he is caught immediately.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Decidedly cynical.
  • Spoiler Title: Notice how the title is Bicycle Thieves. Thieves as in plural.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Granted, it's a very small bone, but it qualifies. After Antonio has been caught stealing the bike, the owner is initially planning to take him to the police. But when he notices Bruno bawling and grabbing at his father, the owner changes his mind and lets Antonio go.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Probably one of the most famous examples in cinema. Just when it looks like Antonio will be able to move his family out of poverty, his bicycle is stolen and risks him losing his job. Throughout his journey to get it back, all chances to find it turn out out to be useless and he's eventually forced to try to steal a bicycle himself. But not even that goes right for him, as he is immediately captured and forced to give the bike back. The movie really is just one long chain yank for poor Antonio.

Alternative Title(s): The Bicycle Thief