Blog assignment #5 – Bazin and Bicycle Thieves, a discussion on the evolution of cinematic language

by Vincent Thorne

Post-war Italy, the poor, their struggle to survive; that is what it is all about in Bicycle Thieves, the 1948 Italian neorealist monument. Difficult to have a more close view on the life conditions of the majority of the Italian population at the time than the one offered by Vittorio De Sica; he wanted us to see it real, and he succeeded.

Bicycle Thieves, 1948

Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves), 1948

Before the beginning of the screening, we were told to pay attention to the framing; as usual unsure of my ability to completely grasp the substance of a movie, I take the advice seriously and keep it on the top of my head. This revealed itself a precious guide in decrypting the point of view of the director.

What I first notice following the tip, was that from 1 minute in the movie the camera didn’t let go our main character, Antonio Ricci, more than a few seconds here and there until the end. Antonio was the center of gravity of the movie; we were following every one of his breath and steps. This had for effect to be Antonio Ricci, made us think like him and run through the streets of Rome with him.

Wondering in Rome with his son, desperately looking for his stolen bike

Wondering in Rome with his son, desperately looking for his stolen bike

Particularly impressive was the scene during which Antonio is being surrounded by neighbors of the man he think stole his bike. As he tries to defend his right slightly violently against the presumed thief, the crowd is building up. Throughout the movie, and particularly here, we sense how De Sica places us, the audience, in regard of the action: he puts us as if we were part of it, in that crowd, trying to see something behind the shoulder of the guy in front of us. De Sica does not put us in the shoes of Antonio, but rather makes us stand always at sight, letting us observe every single one of his expression on his face, and sense his thoughts.
In that sense, the movie Bicycle Thieves is neorealist masterpiece.

Surrounded by the crowd

Surrounded by the crowd

In regards to the evolution of cinematographic language, this movie clearly shows a singular way to offer the action to the audience. As I said above, the choice of putting us in the position of viewing every single movement of Antonio is quite a shift compared to more classical stories with multiple characters, stories and relationships, as very well illustrated in Rules of the game. Here, all that matters is one story, and the framing and montage perfectly follow that direction. As Bazin put it, « (…) in the silent days, montage evoked what the director wanted to say; in the editing of 1938, it described it. Today we can say that at last the director writes in film. »

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