As one of the most iconic and recognizable shots of Bicycles Thieves, the massive vertical tower at the pawn shop is made up of linen bundles visually to the ones and Maria and Antonio sold to receive enough money to retrieve the bike. This power of this imagery rests on the camera pan revealing over twice as many bundles as had been visible from the ground in previous shots; the pan illustrates the sheer number of the sheets in this tower, and in turn forces us to consider how many off-screen Antonios have faced the struggle of surrendering their valued possession to survive. The image of each bundle symbolizes the hardships endured by other families in postwar Rome, which evokes the widespread economic despair in the city by extension.
Antonio plasters a sultry poster of Rita Hayworth on his first day of work, and this image provides an ironic contrast between the glamorous, alluring icon of Hollywood grandeur and the quotidian, gritty social concerns expressed in neorealism, which triumphs on-location shooting, nonprofessional actors, stark photography, and natural lighting. The juxtaposition between the Rita Hayworth imagery and neorealism illuminates how filmmakers like De Sica were not only accurately rendering bleak social and economic conditions, injustices, and unemployment experienced by the average individual in postwar Europe, but they were also critiquing the artifice and unpalatable, detached narratives apparent in the films and narratives of the American film industry.
Bruno at the top of the staircase
After Antonio breathes a sigh of relief upon realizing that Bruno is not the drowning boy, we see Bruno sitting at the top of an immense staircase near the river. This image is seen from Antonio’s point of view, and the low camera placement and wide-angle lens used in the shot makes Bruno appear tiny and precious, symbolizing Antonio’s remembrance of his love for his son, as well as his desire to redeem himself as a father. The image also illustrates a vast physical distance between Antonio and Bruno, which represents how Antonio has generated symbolic space between himself and his son by slapping him in the previous scene.
Imagery of bicycles pervade the film; they are seen in multitudes at the pawnbroker, on city streets, at Porta Portese and Piazza Vittorio, and at the football stadium. The constant imagery establishes an alienated Antonio’s desire for the object, which becomes more and more desperate when it seems everyone in Rome owns this valued commodity except him. The images of the bicycles also emphasize the economic implications of the bicycle, which functions as a class-identifying object widely accessible to the majority of the population in Rome, but less common among poverty-stricken families and individuals like Antonio.
Bicycle Thieves Questions and Answers
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Bicycle Thieves (also called The Bicycle Thief) study guide contains a biography of director Vittorio De Sica, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.