Notes on Bicycle Thieves

-Compiled from BFI Bicycle Thieves by Robert S.C. Gordon and Italian Neo-Realist Cinema by Wagstaff

The plot for Bicycle Thieves is taken from a 1946 novel by writer Luigi Bartolini. The narrative of Bicycle Thieves is structured such that it serves as a denunciation of social conditions in post-war Italy to represent reality as comprising of a banal truth.

The film is witness to a thin strand of tapestry as it explores a cinema of the common man to suggest pathos instead of recommending a prescription, a way out of its ordinariness. The film emphasises the transition of Italy from a Fascist country during the war to a democracy. This transformation of democracy is emphasised through an understanding of the disappearance of the villain in order to prescribe capitalism itself as a villain: for capitalism has no face.

This disappearance of the villain produces a de-dramatization of narrative to capture a flux of life as it is becoming, as if to capture, instead of a circuit producing current, the electromagnetic field around a wire.

The entire argument of the film is to project the story onto a bicycle. Modernity, in some senses is defined as a bicycle, an icon for movement where the rotation of a part produces a transformation of the whole: a micro politics that is its own line of flight. This cycle, once stolen is the MacGuffin in the film that allows De Sica a systematic study of contemporary Italian society.

This study of contemporary Italian society is similar to Deleuze and Guattari’s observation on Franz Kafka’s “minor literature” i.e. it produces a zero intensity space through a subtraction of presence that function at different degrees of speed and slowness.The dialectic between universal and particular is represented through the dialectic between public ownership and labour, and private property. The discourse on capitalism is particularly rife in the sequence where the bicycles are broken from their parts, free of use value and only serving exchange value; in other words becoming György Lukács’ ideal of an individual story from the perspective of a socio-political class i.e. the working class.

The digressions in the story are a method for the real to enter the logic of the fiction, with its overdetermined presences and Gestalt objects. Structure, image, sound and meaning are the layers at which the featherlight simplicity is represented to underline complexity. The thin tapestry is thick with description, so that the recognition and emotional engagement created by the relationship between the particular-part to the universal-whole produces resonance.

The film is a quintessential city film as it counterpoints the low and documentary with the archetypal and mythic through the city of Rome. This is done through fragmenting of space, a sense of social tension: the relationship on the one hand to the labyrinth and on the other through the crowd, so that the city eventually becomes a site of danger and loss.

In the archetypal city film the poor are hidden. Here the poor reveal the extensive city space, mapped in time so that the narrative is mapped onto a spatial and social reality. The Fascist New Man is historical and collective, thus becoming the psychological cause for Ricci’s crime. For the first time the Church and the Communist Party unite against the Fascists in the 1948 elections, thus opening up the link between family, Church and Party that indiscernibly splits up time between work and leisure. In the film, the channels of emotions are represented through a relational and geometrical vocabulary, as the anti-Oedipal father and son, Ricci and Bruno create a dialectic between experience and innocence as they struggle in the world. Bruno, contrary to Ricci shows a rare wisdom and understanding through the illogical way of a child. Antonio’s neglect of Bruno is nothing but an index of his own anxiety.

The austere melodramatic genre in the film, in which the humanity from a character is block. This character is placed in a situation where s/he is at the margin of society. Gilles Deleuze’s sensory motor collapse produces crystalline images where the actual and virtual are projected onto one another. These actual-virtual images are created precisely because the characters decision making power is taken away thus producing a crisis in representation. The film can be thought of as a laboratory experiment where the audience and characters are witness to this subtraction of humanity juxtapose with the character’s awareness of this taking away. This character confronts the Lacanian Big Other that is the landscape.

If the pure MacGuffin, George Kaplan, in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest is the Name-of-the-Father(as stated by Raymond Bellour), it is simultaneously what the Big Other i.e. the landscape wants you to be. The MacGuffin juxtaposes the Big Other with the Name-of-the-Father. In the case of Bicycle Thieves the father is precisely the system creating fragmented objects like the bicycle but simultaneously able to enter the domain of the iconic. In this way De Sica is able to achieve an “expressive neutrality” of the cinematographic language so as to “permit art to unmask a nature that resembles it through the expressive neutrality of the cinematographic form. The ultimate message that De Sica wants to give us is that solitude is a deprivation and a loss in a capitalist system in which the individual is a component of the organism. This evokes the Kantian sublime juxtaposed with the threatened individual in a frightened landscape

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