Bicycle Thieves

Bicycle Thieves Summary and Analysis of Part 3: "This is no way to behave in a church."


The following morning, Antonio and Bruno meet up with Baiocco, who asks Antonio for a description of his bike, and Bruno, knowing the bike better than Antonio, tells Baoicco, “A lightweight Fides, 1935 model.” Baiocco then recruits 2 of his acquaintances, Meniconi and Bagonghi, to search for the bike, and the group splits up to look for individual parts of the bicycle at Piazza Vittorio, Rome’s largest square.

At the plaza, a well-dressed man blows bubbles, ignoring his surroundings. The group gazes upon countless of nearly identical bicycles and parts. While Bruno carefully scans the pumps and gets harassed by an older rich man, Antonio believes he sees a part of his bike and asks the seller for the serial number. The seller refuses, and in response, Antonio leaves the scene and returns with a cop, who demands the seller to show him and Antonio the frame. The officer reads out the bike’s serial number, which doesn’t match the one belonging to Antonio’s bike. Antonio then tells the officer, “A man who’s been robbed has a right to look,” to which the cop replies, “We all make mistakes.” The police officer exits the scene without further inquiring about Antonio's predicament.

Baiocco says he will continue his search at Piazza Vittorio and urges Antonio and Bruno to look for the bike in another market, Porta Portese. One of Baiocco’s friends drives the father and son to Porta Portese, and it begins to rain heavily. In response to the rain, the agitated driver delivers an astute, self-reflective diatribe, remarking, “You just can’t win. It rains every Sunday. Sundays I’m off at 1:00, and where can you go? Movies bore me. I just don’t like ‘em."Once they arrive at the Plaza, a doubtful Antonio aimlessly looks around the market, but the rain encourages sellers to set down their displays and leave, thereby rendering Antonio's quest all the more unfeasible. Antonio and Bruno run for shelter under the arches, and Bruno falls. Upset, Bruno attempts to clean himself up and Antonio, having missed his son’s trip, asks him what happened, and Bruno responds, “I fell down!” Antonio then gives Bruno a cloth to clean up with.

The ferocious, dismal rain suddenly stops, and Antonio recognizes one of men involved in the theft of his bike. The young thief converses with an older man, who receives 100 lira from him during their encounter. Without alerting Bruno, Antonio begins to chase the young man down and screams, “Stop him! Thief!” Bruno follows behind at a distance, but the thief escapes once again. Antonio decides to run back to the arches to find the older man.

After a ruthless pursuit, Antonio and Bruno finally spot the old man, who refuses to tell Antonio about the young man. The old man pretends to be oblivious, asserting, “I’m just an old man who minds his business.” Antonio and Bruno continue to follow the man into a church, where the poor give thanks during a service and receive free haircuts and pasta. The old man is shaved by one of the representatives of the service, and Antonio looks at the poor man with a knowing empathy. Nonetheless, Antonio confronts the man during mass, saying, “I have to find the young man, it’s a personal matter.” The old man once again fakes obliviousness and ignores Antonio. Once Antonio threatens to call the police, the old man finally succumbs to Antonio’s persistence and gives the address and apartment number of the young man.

Antonio angrily begs the old man to escort him to the thief’s apartment. When the old man says he won't help Antonio and demands to be left alone, Antonio raises his voice and grabs the old man, which attracts the attention of mass attendees. The old man, letting go of Antonio's grasp, claims he’s leaving to get lunch but escapes the church altogether instead. Not knowing the whereabouts of the old man, the father-son duo begin to search the massive church, but one of the organizers of the service commands them to cease their racket and leave, declaring "this is no way to behave in a church."

Ignoring him, Antonio and Bruno re-enter the service, and Bruno accidentally opens the confessional without permission, only to be slapped on the head by the priest. The service officials continue berating Antonio, who finally exits the church with Bruno when they can’t locate the old man in mass. Antonio and Bruno look outside and the old man is out of sight—their one chance of finding the bike seems to have tragically slipped away from them.


In Part 3 of Bicycle Thieves, De Sica critically expands on the theme of the individual vs. the group. This overarching conflict deeply impacts Antonio when he, Bruno, Baiocco, and other friends attempt to find his bike in Piazza Vittorio. Throughout the film, De Sica uses a simplistic style of filmmaking, highlighted by conventional shot-reverse-shots and continuity editing. However, in the market scene, De Sica employs fluid tracking shots and pans to evoke the near-impossibility of the team finding Antonio’s bicycle. When Antonio looks around for his bike, a slow pan reveals the countless bicycle parts identical to each other, which unifies the parts as a collective, threatening unit. The pan, representing Antonio’s gaze, connects the homogenized bicycle parts together. Antonio appears unnerved and distressed upon realizing the object he desperately searches for is not unique or visually distinctive by any means; it resembles all the other bicycle parts, goods, and necessities denied to the working class. Even if Antonio believes he spots his individual bicycle among the masses in Piazza Vittorio, his instincts are likely incorrect, as proven by his unsuccessful encounter with the hostile seller. Due to the sheer size and population of Rome, Antonio’s search for his bicycle has always been a long shot at best, but it's the market scene that shows us just how quixotic his quest is. It is at this scene where Antonio’s individual search for his own bicycle confronts the collective of the thousands of other bicycles—and the transportation and capitalist market system in Rome by extension—and the results of this conflict are unsurprisingly dismal.

Notably, the market scene also brings into relief the disparities between the rich and poor. Antonio’s search unveils corruption throughout many institutions and layers of socioeconomic statuses, but especially among the upper classes. In the scene’s beginning, we see a bourgeois and oblivious young man blow bubbles, a frivolous and self-indulgent action among such economic decay and suffering. Also, a well-dressed pedophile tries to seduce and catch the attention of Bruno by offering him bicycle parts, and nobody takes action against this harassment of a young, poor, vulnerable child. The only person who dismisses the man in the end is Antonio, who failed to notice the pedophile in the first place. Clearly, members of the upper class are either oblivious to the suffering faced by marginalized sections of society (the bubble-blowing man) or they actively try to take advantage of their disadvantaged statuses for their own perverse desires (the pedophile). No wonder the working class man who drives Antonio and Bruno to Porta Portese conveys a distaste for movies, claiming “Movies bore me. I just don’t like ‘em.” The film industry is comprised of elite members of society who, like the upper-class men in these films, exploit the poor or ignore their hardships in favor of glossy, idealized portrayals of everyday life, an idea first explored in the imagery of the Rita Hayworth poster earlier in the film.

Likewise, not even the church is a sanctuary for the characters in Bicycle Thieves. For Antonio, the church is more of a disruptive nuisance than a site for him to worship God, as he and Bruno only enter the church to pursue the old man. The church functions as one of many Antonio’s time-consuming obstacles: he and Bruno quickly lose track of the old man and become trapped there. While trying to find the old man, Antonio clearly reveals that he is in a crisis and needs help. The church officials, like the police, do not effectively assist Antonio. They express more concern over the disturbance he’s causing than his actual predicament; they insist that Antonio is behaving inappropriately and urge him to leave.

Unlike the police, employment office, and the Communist party, the church exemplifies a common decency in their attempts to help the poor, offering them lunch and haircuts. However, these efforts are ineffective. In order to receive the church’s charitable services, the guests must attend a mandatory sermon, signifying that the church has ulterior motives in their perceived benevolent actions. If the church was truly charitable, it would grant its services without any strings attached. The church’s grandiose size, luxurious interiors, and many employees imply a clearly powerful and rich institution, one that has more than enough resources to dispense for the poor. And yet, they force impoverished populations to conform to their religious practices to receive aid, suggesting that the basic necessities of life are a luxury solely available to those willing to follow the word of God. Thus, underneath the church’s benevolent albeit disingenuous facade lies a manipulative intent to control the poor, thereby rendering the church just as troubling of an institution as the police, the employment services, and the Communist party depicted in Bicycle Thieves.

Through its depictions of poverty and inadequate functionaries, the film sustains a somber, often pessimistic mood throughout its run-time. This mood surfaces at the very beginning of the film, when Antonio comments, “Damn the day I was born” before even attempting to retrieve his bicycle. After not finding his bike at the plaza, he simply states, “It’s hopeless,” and the relentless rainstorm following this declaration symbolizes Antonio’s general cynical outlook on life. It is easy to sympathize with Antonio’s viewpoint—he is a consistently unlucky, suffering man treated poorly by the institutions around him. The somber mood established in the first half of the film paves the way for the film’s devastating, harrowing finale.