Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (often listed under the title The Bicycle Thief) is an example of Italian Neo-Realist filmmaking which emerged in the years following World War II as an example economics guiding ideology and ideology capitalizing upon economic necessity. Some critics would situate the film as not just an example of Neo-Realism, but the ultimate realization of it.
The ravages of fascist oppression and the united effort to stem its tide took a heavy economic toll on filmmaking resources. As a result, without easy access to studios, equipment and trained crews, filmmakers like De Sica took to the streets, hired non-actors and portrayed the realities of life in Europe after fascist in the most unglamorous of terms. Bicycle Thieves and similar examples of Neo-Realist filmmaking thus make an almost comprehensive mockery of Hollywood attempts to infuse “realism” upon their strictly constructed fantasies of the real word.
The simple story of a father forced to sell his family’s linens in order to buy a bike so he can get work posting bills throughout the city only to have his bike stolen which leads to desperate attempt to steal a bike himself was shot on the streets of Rome, features totally unknown and untrained actors even in the leads and ultimately won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Bicycle Thieves has also inspired countless filmmakers to try their hand at recreating the experience of bringing real life to stunning cinematic life on the barest of economic resources. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of those filmmakers did not approach the challenge with the artistry of cinema’s poet of the streets, Vittorio De Sica.