The Bicycle Thieves as a Masterpiece of Filmmaking

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We initially see him from a distance away from the crowd of the men. The use of the camera angles in this scene aids in characterizing Antonio’s sense of isolation possibly due to the fact that he is unemployed. Once the scene continues further into the crowd it becomes evident that that the group of men, we see are indeed unemployed and from the look of desperation in their faces we can conclude that they are distressed. Just from this opening scene, one can see that reality of post-war Italy which highlights the staggering numbers of unemployed citizens that is ultimately throwing families into absolute poverty.

Inside the small apartment of the Ricci family, with the camera being at eye level, we are able to see just how cramped their home is. Comparatively, in the scene that takes place at the pawnbroker’s shop, we are able to visually understand the poverty that is afflicting post-war Italy citizens. The placement of the camera and the use of reframing rather than cutting allows for the audience to essentially see the whole picture. In this scene, Antonio Ricci and his wife go to the pawnshop to get the bike he needs for his new job as a poster hanger. His wife is seen pawning the bed sheets in order to retrieve the bike. As the negotiation between the wife and the pawnbroker develops, we are able to see this through a window and a glass divider.

Afterwards we see the face of Antonio pop up into the window to ask for more money and with this naturalistic appearance into the scene through the window, there’s a shot change from a single shot to a two-shot that allows for space in the scene. As Antonio waits patiently to get the bike, he sees through the window the clerk taking the bed sheets to the back where there are even more bed sheets. Initially, with the camera placement, there’s the illusion that there are just a couple rows of shelves where the clerk will place the bed sheets. However, we see that the clerk instead starts climbing the shelves and the wide shot slightly tilts to allow the audience to follow him up the shelves. This reveals that in actuality there even more immense shelves holding what looks like hundreds of bed sheets that have been pawned by the citizens. The intricate movement of the camera thus allows for the revelation of the economic misery that the working class in Italy are facing. Additionally, this scene with a frame within a frame allows for the film’s ideological values to develop. For example, we see the few, privileged, on one side of the frame and the many poor on the other side of the frame. Towards the end of the scene, melancholic music plays which essentially sets the tone of the film thus far.

Moreover, since we know that the bicycle is very important in order for Antonio to provide for his family, the producer creates various tension moments in the scenes after they have retrieved the bicycle. This is done by tracking and zooming so that the bicycle is out of the view of the audience. When the bicycle is out of view, the audience can feel tension and is essentially left wondering if the bicycle has vanished for good. It is in a way unnerving, the formal play with zooming out of the boundaries, since the bicycle has become a symbol of the family’s only means of income. This is why when the bicycle is not seen in the frame, there is an unbearable tension, most particular when Antonio just leaves it outside without any kind of supervision. Once Antonio returns for the bicycle, with the camera angle, there is a shot of him going down the stairs, so that it seems as though the bicycle is no longer where he had left it. The camera then slightly pulls away so that we can see the bicycles handlebars poking a little in the frame of the scene at the very bottom.

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We are taken back to the apartment where there is an evident change of mood. In this scene, we see Antonio gleefully preparing for his first day of work. Through Antonio’s actions, the audience is able to see the optimism that has returned to the family. For example, we see him playfully interacting with his wife while also taking pride in his new uniform. In this particular scene we see the use of mise-en-scene, which is an expression used to describe the visual artful ways in which everything is placed in cinematography. We see Antonio in the morning preparing for his day while his son Bruno is imitating him. Bruno copies his father, looking him up and down as his role model. We see that Bruno’s outfit resembles that of his father. This is crucial in understanding just how desperate times were during this era. For an audience in the 1940s this scene would probably resemble their own situations and even create a positive message about the future of their country with the depiction of child labor. Now for an audience in this current era, this scene would come off as shocking in that a child is preparing himself for work. However, it also resonates with the anguish of the time and thus introduces problems such as child labor.

In the scene where we see Antonio cycling to work, we are able to see more of the post-war Italian city. We see how a variety of stylistic devices build up to the sense of happiness and optimism observe previously. The morning lighting is in a way symbolic; there is a dawn breaking in this scene, both metaphorically and literally on a new day. The exceptional camera angles give us a sense of Antonio’s final liberation from poverty. Through this cycling journey, the audience is positioned right among the cyclist in the city. In this way, we see just how busy and crowded it is. This is all due to the camera position, which provides us with the sense of mobility through the city. The wide shots in this scene also underline the feeling of space and freedom as Antonio cycles to his new job. Thus far the audience can see that the style of the film can be seen as straightforward, but it is not without its craft. There is the fact that the lighting is quite realistic while the frame is loose.

Throughout the film, with the exception of Antonio and Bruno on the curb and just a few other shots, the camera angle is straight from the eye level. Also, in one of the last scenes of the film we see the use of crosscutting quite often. The scene depicts Antonio himself becoming a bicycle thieve, and we find extensive use of crosscutting. For instance, there is cutting back and forth between Antonio, the bicycle sitting by the apartment, and the bicycles sitting by the stadium. Overall, this creates a sense of what exactly Antonio is feeling as he contemplates becoming a thieve. Likewise, the crosscutting amongst Antonio fleeing and the crowd of men chasing him, gives the audience some kind of excitement and action coming from the chase. Afterwards, the cutting between Antonio and the crowd of men as well as Bruno running towards his father gives the audience a sense of irony and frustration coming from this particular situation. The use of crosscutting between shots, at the end of the scene gives the film and intense rhythm that was needed the most.

Consequently, the locations and the decorations on the film were in fact real and not built-up, as such the lighting was also natural. This is an attempt, by the producers, to present reality as it is. The camera is free and unrestricted which allows for more room and far more convincing viewing. Close ups and long shots depict Antonio loosely framed in his environment. This gives the audience an opportunity to have a better view of the scene with the added enhancement of the shots taken at eye level. To have a more real-life experience, there is also the addition of jumps and shifts through editing.

The film is a beautiful depiction of just how a state of desperation for a living can signify so much to someone in a miserable economic status that it can lead to even the purest of men into crime. The main character was left without a choice due to living conditions being so harsh. In essence, the camera work and the combination of thematic elements allowed for the effortless visualization of the emotions that were portrayed by the characters. Additionally, the clever use of neorealism combined with mis-en-scene gives an enhancement to the film’s theme. Although the film is shot in black and white, there are also a combination of different shades of lighting found throughout the scenes. For instance, low lighting is depicted when Antonio is home, when he is at the pawnshop, and when he visits the fortuneteller. The low lighting is a representation of Antonio’s state of desperation during those particular scenes.

Contrary to this, high lighting is particularly used mostly for outdoor scenes, which gives us a better view of the enormous size of the city. This also serves as an emphasis to the large area that Antonio has to cover in order to look for his bicycle. Aside from the lighting contrasts used throughout the film, the costume selection aids the audience in understanding that economic status of the characters. The clothing that Antonio and his family wear, can be viewed as basic, and a reflection of the poor working lower class. Additionally, this becomes even more apparent when Antonio and Bruno stop for lunch at a restaurant. In this scene we can see a wealthy family enjoying their lunch. We can make the assumption that the family is indeed wealthy by the fact that their clothing is very elaborate, with one of the women wearing an expensive looking hat and the all the men wearing suits.

In conclusion, this film has the ability to capture the attention of large audiences. It is remembered as a masterpiece of filmmaking due mainly to all the combinations of elements such as mis-en-scene, neorealism, and cinematography. The films’ use of cinematography also aids in creating great visuals. For instance, there is the use of close-ups of Antonio’s face that take place throughout the film, as way to reveal the enormous frustration that is taking over the main character. This allows the viewer to sympathize with the main character and essentially feel exactly what he is feeling. Lon shots were also used throughout the film. In the very last scene, Antonio is very desperate to attain a bike that he makes the decision to steal one. For this scene, the long shots allow for us to see a huge rack of bicycles sitting next to the stadium, thus the audience can have a sense of his own contemplation of stealing a bicycle. All these elements work in conjunction to create compelling visuals that lead to overall emotion and suspense.

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