A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1948 – Bicycle Thieves

Took a bit of a left turn with this one. 1948 is a very strong year with a lot of contenders. I could have just as easily chose The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, or The Red Shoes. But I didn’t. I’m going with Bicycle Thieves. Because we need some international flair. And because it’s one of the greatest films ever made or whatever.

The real important thing here is that it’s an example of Italian Neorealism. Which was a movement after World War II tat strove to add a degree of realism to films that wasn’t previously there. It started with Rome Open City, but this feels like the one that really broke through.

I like this as the choice for 1948 because 1948 feels like the turning point for society where it started to demand a little more realism in their movies, seeing them as capable of more than just escapism. That’s why, over the next five years, you start to see the method actors popping up. A degree of realism starts to seep into the movies, and it really began with movies like this one.

The beautiful thing about this movie is that it strove to tell a story without the use of studio sets and trained actors. It wanted everything to feel real. And it does. And at times, it’s heartbreaking.

The film really ushered in a new era of filmmaking, specifically global filmmaking. A decade later, when French New Wave happened (those French, not going through with a revolution until they see another country do one successfully), all the French films used Italian crews because they were so heavily influenced by the Neorealist movement.

But really, you can see as you watch the film, this film is way more in line with what independent cinema is like nowadays than almost anything else Hollywood was making. That’s its true legacy. Not to mention being a glimpse into what a post-war Italy was like.

The film is absolutely brutal. You really feel for this character, and it provides a completely immersive experience for the viewer, even now. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful movie. And to me, this is the one that ushered in a whole wave of foreign cinema into the U.S. It wasn’t until the Neorealists that foreign films managed to cross over. You had a little bit with Renoir in the 30s, but starting here, there was a lot more of it, and I think that’s very important for film history.

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