Introduction to Italian Neo-Realism
Italian Neo-Realist films are among the most influential films of all time, simply for the fact that they used a realistic stylistic approach that was alternative to that of the glossy Hollywood films (Corrigan & White, 2009), and that they realistically discussed themes and subjects that were present throughout Italy at the time, breaking away from the “vacuous entertainment” that Italian cinema was previously regarded as (Monticelli, 2000). While Italian Neo-Realism was made distinctive as a result of elements of cinematography such as shooting on location and using natural and available light on “set”, there is so much more to Neo-Realism than what we see on the screen. In no other film is this more evident than in Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 masterpiece Bicycle Thieves, a film that is a fantastic example of neo-realism.
Story Instead of Plot
Of all the 90 or so Neo-realist films (Monticelli, 2000) made during 1942-1952 (Corrigan & White, 2009), none of them had as much impact as that of Bicycle Thieves. The story of a man, Antonio Ricci, played by Lamberto Maggiorani, and his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) searching for his bicycle which was stolen by a young thief. Just by looking at the story, you can see how the film is a great example of neo-realism, for the film has more of a story than a plot. What happens in the film doesn’t follow a cause and effect pattern, rather events just occur, much like life itself. There is much more to the film than a man just searching for his bike. We see themes presented such as “human suffering in a hostile environment” (Sorlin, 2005). This theme is easily summarised through the opening and closing shots of the film, where we see Antonio caught up amongst hundreds of people, who all appear to be in the same boat as him. The fact that we see more story than plot comes down to the fact that Neo-Realist films have little editing, providing real continuity. For example, there is a shot in the film of Bruno using the toilet, a shot that was perhaps unnecessary to the story but necessary in conveying the realism of the film, showing how Bicycle Thieves is an ideal presentation of Neo-Realism.
Real Characters and Situations
Film theorist Andre Bazin in his essay Neorealism and Pure Cinema: The Bicycle Thieves (Bazin, 2007) defined Bicycle Thieves as “pure cinema…it tells a simple story composed of real events involving real people in real places.” This is another way that the film can be seen as an ideal example of neo-realism. The film includes characters that the Italian people of the time could relate to, and placed these characters into situations that people could also relate to. The importance of a bike to Antonio could mean nothing to us living in the developed world of the 21st century. However, we need to place ourselves in the context of the period. The film is set in a period when mechanical transportation was rare and expensive (Bazin, 2007). What we see in the film isn’t fiction; it’s the type of living conditions that people were living in. This wouldn’t be as accurately conveyed across if it weren’t for real characters that we are also presented with. There isn’t anything theatrical about these characters. All of the characters actions and reactions mirror that of regular people. Pierre Sorlin in his book Italian National Cinema: 1896-1996 (Sorlin, 2005) states that “when [Antonio’s] bike is stolen, there are no hints to the man’s state of mind. We only see his immediate, erratic reactions.” This also comes down to the fact that neo-realist films use unprofessional actors instead of major stars. Therefore, Bicycle Thieves is an ideal example of neo-realism.
Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves is a fine example of how to convey neo-realism by using more than just cinematography. Through having more of a story than a plot, as well as placing real characters in real situations and having them deal with themes such as human suffering, we can see that Bicycle Thieves is an ideal presentation of neo-realism.