In the spin of Bicycle wheels, a bud is grown; Bicycle Thieves.
Italy production- 1948
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Producer: David Selznick
Screenplay: Cesare Zavattini
Cinematography: Carlo Montuori
Music: Alessandro Cicognini
Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola
Based on a novel of the same name by Luigi Bartolini
In the widespread unemployment in Italy post-WWII, some people are seeking a job. Among lots of applicants, bird of fortune spreads its wings on Ricci and he is chosen for the job. From the very beginning, happy Ricci faces a trouble. The last qualification for getting the job is to have a bicycle but Ricci’s bike has been pledged. He gets back the bike with his wife’s help and selling some of the home items and begins the first day of work. On the same day, his bicycle was stolen in the bustling city of Rome. Ricci and his son search the city out to find it. Finally, despite finding the thief, he could not convict the thief because of insufficient evidence, so he decides to steal a bicycle for himself. While trying to steal a bicycle, some people follow him, eventually he was slapped and insulted before his son’s eyes. In the end, he disappears into the crowd of bustling city while crying and holding his son’s hands.
The name of the play is originally “Bicycle thieves”, however, surprisingly it has been translated as “bicycle thief” not only in Persian but also in English and it has popular by this name from the beginning up to now. The focus of this article is based on this name, to alleviate some of the misinterpretations about this masterpiece. In this regard, dialectical thinking helps us to understand the process of the movie, a process which is similar to the spin of bicycle wheels.
Opening scene of the film shows the workers who hope their names be on the list of selected people for job, standing before the foreman and paying careful attention to him. Ricci is sitting alone far from others. His name is called, he comes into the crowd and gets the job, apparently a cheap job which boasting its real value from this very moment to the end of the movie. Encountering this scene raises a question: Why isn’t Ricci in the same scene as of others? Why is he far from the crowd? It seems that Ricci is going to carry the burden of the movie. He may, by Hegel’s interpretation, be the spirits of the people. He finds his personality in exchange for this dangerous mission, the personality which is defined next to those people; the people who is built with Ricci. This process continues throughout the movie. An individual finds people as a ready and stable world which he must make himself compatible with. He must seize this fundamental existence so he may himself come into existence. Every individual is his folk’s son in a certain stage of this people’s prosperity… the individual does not innovate his own content but merely activates his intrinsic content(Mccarney,2000)and spirit finds a way into every aspect of people and gives them their existence.
But, let’s put another logic towards this scene. The logic which calls the movie “bicycle thief” and proposes a problem. A problem trying to conclude that the movie does not have any neorealistic hero and its hero is an individual. A conclusion which is derived from a formal logic. Let’s face the problem while put aside all the notes, criticisms, awards and the name which the movie has gained as one of the most noblest neorealism movies in Italy after 70 years. The answer to this question is a yes and a no. If considering “bicycle thief”, the answer is yes, the hero is an individual. However, when considering “bicycle thieves” the answer is definitely ‘no’. The thought behind this movie is dialectic thinking. That is why the name is chosen for the movie, the roadmap is designed and the beginning scene is connected to its last one. Neither Ricci’s separation from others in the beginning and last scene nor the name chosen for the movie is accidental. Throughout the movie the director is conveying a meaning to the audience. First, All the characters’ personal plight is originated from the society; second, Ricci can not ever been considered as a character who is pushing the movie into individualism. He not only is merely a representative of his society, but also the movie is driven by him and the society; Ricci is not alone in any scene, neither when he is looking to find his bicycle, nor when he escapes by the stolen bike. In this regard, if we call this movie “bicycle thief”, we have to identify the thief! That unreachable unknown who has stolen a poor sufferer man or that worker who has been coerced to steal? Thus, the hero of the movie is the awkward Ricci and all his miseries are tied to his unlucky fate. As a result, the movie is completely known as personal and non-realist. Nevertheless, we have chosen to be the druid woman who is thinking for her own benefits despite all the plight before our eyes and blame other individuals for our problems. The result of such thinking is wasting all the filmmakers’ work, since once more we have failed to analyze this adversity and we are involved in searching for a causal effect in our personal lives.
However, dialectic thinking says that not only there is a conflict and contradiction amongst the component s of nature but also in each component. This conflict is between the new growing parts with old dying ones that leads to the victory of growing forces. Dialectic is continuously moving, changing and creating. This is exactly what Ricci does, what people do, a bud growing in Ricci’s hand, a bike wheel spinning and what Dessica does. We encounter conflict in different scenes. These conflicts are not a sign for Dessica’s separation from neorealism doctrine, but it is her ultimate growth. Recall the church scene and Ricci’s decisive and aggressive behavior toward that old man. Also the scene that Ricci encounters the bike thief and suddenly we have the feeling that he feels pity for him; the conflict that he faces whether to steal the bike or not at the end section of the movie; and the conflict that takes him to that luxurious restaurant. The result of this process is a synthesis that brings up him and the bud in his hand. This synthesis is also illustrated in the society. People in the first scenes of bicycle thieves are not those in the last ones. Although Ricci was alone at the beginning of the movie, some people joined to help him in the middle of the movie, and it seems that at the end all the people of the town appear beside him and his son. He did suffer in this way, both him and his entourage. But Hegel teaches us: pain is for every creature, it is their excellence, too. Rapid change and renovation is painful and happiness at the same time. (Lidman, 1389:310).
Many critics, from Andre Bazin to Masood Ferasati, Believe that throughout the movie, the narration is going forward by negative probabilities. As soon as the movie begins, we expect the bicycle to be stolen any time. Even when searching for the bike there is no hope to find it. Everything happens in the worst condition. Most scenes seem to be boring and pointless. We should see if this is Ricci’s life or Dessica’s wish.
You are facing a movie that is called bicycle thieves. A bike has to be stolen. It happens at the beginning of the movie. The scenes in this movie sound to be occasionally boring to us. Isn’t it like life? I doubt if our lives are full of adventures like Hollywood movies. Everyday life and work is one of the main basis of neorealism doctrine. These long scenes close us to the life that we seem unwilling to observe. The bitterness of the story of bicycle thieves may be concerned with this longsome everyday life rather than its play. Considering that the movie is going forward by negative probabilities, like some people, we should know that this is Ricci’s life not Dessica’s wish. Yes, if Ricci had another life, he would never go through this misery just for the sake of a bike. Flies go to leant horses; Ricci is miserable because he and his people have been ignored and are deprived of any rights. But ignored people from town do not become passive. They, like the ignored people in suburbs, will stand up against the life fast train and throw stones at it. Obviously, in this lifestyle there is few moments when everything is alright.
It seems that there is another story behind this play. A story in which Ricci and Dessica are sitting next to each other and watching the real story. They both try to confront these miseries. But, perhaps the problem lies elsewhere, where the property is stolen. The problem which is caused by war, colonialism, fake justice, fragile democracy and the stupid bureaucracy. What could we do now? It is likely that the answer is in the movie. In the last scene, in the atmosphere where the bud is growing, where the citizenry take the control of own interests, where the last synthesis of the movie takes place.
Considering the scenes of the druid woman and the first scene we notice that Ricci’s life is tied to something which makes him not to have hope for being chosen for any job and sit at a place far away from job seekers. The long scene of bike peddler street is a good example for this issue. All these scenes afflict us. However, they are neither fatalism nor determinism, but they are merely a display of Ricci’s sad life. Ricci himself is seeking a way out in his wife’s pray and druid’s words and even his failures, though without any belief in them. This sadness is illustrated in different ways. Dessica changes Ricci from sadness to misery and from an entitled character to a seemingly victim to reach a greater goal, a goal which will flow into the society, a goal which Bruno’s should continue. Perhaps, according to Lefebvre, This is the moment of relief from everyday routine, which stems from a boredom that Svendsen describes: This boredom is not deterrent but opens a perspective of your own existence and because of negativity; it can provide a shift to positive.
Causal effect leads us to the bicycle thief. “Bicycle thieves” is not representative of an action. It is a display of a process, process of Ricci’s change, Bruno’s change and inbreathing a new spirit into the society; when this viewpoint takes roots among folks and grow. The Praxis is where dialectical materialism both starts and finishes. The word itself denotes, in philosophical terms, what common sense refers to as “real life,” that life which is at once more prosaic and more dramatic than that of the speculative intellect. Dialectical materialism’s aim is nothing less than the rational expression of the Praxis, or the actual content of life-and correlatively, the transformation of the present Praxis into a social practice that is conscious, coherent, and free(Lefvebre:2009,22). In the last scene of the movie, where almost all critics believe to be one of the golden scenes in the history of cinema, we see Ricci walking contemplating. Perhaps, more than anything else, he is thinking that he has not been a good model for his son. He may be thinking that he must not have stolen the bike. He might be thinking about the future. Rush of thoughts may have made him in rapture and seems that he is moving in vacuum. Ricci had to be sacrificed, victim of society and its violence. However his sacrifice was not fruitless. Bruno moved forward step by step alongside his father. Sometimes he fell behind his father but his father held his hand till the last moment. In the last scene this is the son who is holding his father’s hand. Bruno is confused thinking about past and future, his father, town, the bike and how he is going to continue along the path. At the end he wipes away the cold sweat on his face and seems to have made a decision and promise. We should not ignore different groups of people in the last scene, which is a part of refusal policy.
Refusal policy could be an intermediate between what is lived and history; could defeat people’s feint lethargy. Active states replaces passive one; people begin to identify a special essence, especially humiliated and exploited folks, who encounter each other not only directly but also in unknown solidarity ways to connect to the world. As people get to know each other, they start to put together common concepts; they generalize and consolidate what is apparently only a special life experience. Anything private is actually public. Our pain is many people’s pain. Refusal Policy neither calls any rights nor does it explain any wish. It just acts, emphasizes and takes back. (Harvey,2012)
The path that the movie directs to audience is not revolution, it is revolt path. A revolt that is planted by bike thieves, at last comes back to public and is injected into veins of society. This time, Bruno holds his father’s hand. He has found out that this way should be passed together, all the opposite parts alongside each other. One should move forward beside other bike thieves. The stolen property should be taken back.
Harvey, David (2012). Rebel Cities: From the Right to the Cities to the Urban Revolution. London: Verso
Lefebvre, Henri (2009). Dialectical Materialism. Translated by John Sturrock. University of Minosseta
Lidman, Seven Eric (1389). Stones of spirit: history of philosophical concepts from ancient ages to present. Translated by Saeid Moghadam. Tehran: Pezhvak Pub
Mccarney, Joseph (2000). Hegel and philosophy of history. Routledge
Svendsen, Lars (2004).A philosophy of boredom, translated by John Irons. Reaktion Books.
 Well known Iranian film Critic