Topics in History: History through Film

A Southport student review of the 1948 movie Bicycle Thieves

Topics is a course at Southport High School taught by Kevin Sanders that analyzes major events from United States and world history through Hollywood films that attempt to portray those events. Students investigate historical documents and other sources to determine if a film is historically accurate.

The goal is for students to develop deeper understandings of the historical discipline while generating questions about the way the world is around them, along with watching classical films that have graced American and international screens.

Student: Tyler Alstott

Film Reviewed: Bicycle Thieves

The 1948 release of Vittorio De Sica’s renowned Italian neorealist movie Bicycle Thieves marked its debut. The movie centers on Antonio Ricci, a destitute billboard vendor who rides his bicycle to work in post-World War II Rome. When Antonio’s bicycle is stolen, he and his little son Bruno go out in a frantic attempt to find it. Their journey through Rome’s streets exposes the brutal reality of life for the city’s impoverished.

The portrayal of post-war Italy and the problems of the working class in Bicycle Thieves is one of the reasons it is regarded as a classic movie. De Sica uses the story of Antonio and Bruno to highlight the challenging circumstances that many people in Rome were forced to endure during a period of severe economic distress and social upheaval. The movie provides a potent and dramatic reflection on the human condition and the tenacity of the human spirit through the depiction of Antonio’s daily efforts to make ends meet and provide for his family.

Neorealist methods and aesthetics are employed in Bicycle Thieves, which is another factor contributing to its excellence. Following WW II, the Italian cinema industry experienced the emergence of neorealism, which was defined by the portrayal of everyday people’s lives using amateur performers, on-location shooting, and real-life scenarios. With its use of amateur performers, accurate portrayal of Rome’s streets and neighborhoods, and emphasis on the day-to-day lives of its characters, Bicycle Thieves is a classic example of this genre.

In addition to its neorealist style and its portrayal of post-war Italy, Bicycle Thieves is also a great film because of its strong emotional impact. The film is a deeply moving and poignant tale of a father’s love for his son and his desperate efforts to provide for his family. Antonio’s search for his stolen bicycle becomes a metaphor for the struggle to survive in a difficult and uncertain world, and the film ultimately offers a powerful and poignant portrayal of the human condition.

In the end, Bicycle Thieves is a great film because of its authentic portrayal of post-war Italy, its use of neorealist techniques and aesthetics, and its strong emotional impact. It is a timeless and enduring classic that continues to resonate with audiences today.