January 22, 2014

"As though the soul of a man had been filmed"

It's fitting that, with Oscar season upon us, I just watched the winner of the 1949 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film: Vittoria De Sica's Ladri di biciclette. Variously translated as The Bicycle Thief or Bicycle Thieves, the black-and-white classic opens as Antonio Ricci, a jobless father of two, at last finds work—work that requires him to own a bicycle—only to have his oft-pawned Fides (I gather that this is a made-up brand) stolen his first day out. What unfolds in the film's 93 minutes is a drama that was heaped with superlative praise on the occasion of its re-release in 1972:

It wasn't Miller or Brando or a hankering for a bracing dose of Italian neorealism, though, that prompted me to check out from my local library the Criterion Collection's double-disc presentation of De Sica's masterpiece. I watched Ladri di biciclette after reading that the founder of the Portland-based band Bike Thief named his quintet of folk/alt-rockers after the film—stole its title, if you will. 

I also regarded the movie as a possible answer to a comment made by a mathematician with whom I was corresponding for my day job. I was questioning this fellow via email about a lectureship he once held, and I suppose he decided to investigate—or at least Google—his interrogator. The scholar's eventual (and quite lengthy) reply to my message began:

Reading your blog gives me the illusion of a personal acquaintance—from the intensity with which you are present even when writing about a subject as mundane as bicycle theft.

"Mundane"? "Dull and ordinary"? Bike theft is, sadly, the latter, but it is not the former. This is the stuff of high drama! Since when does dull material an Oscar earn?

1 comment:

  1. Post war Italy was a dreary place... And sadly the stolen bicycle was never recovered. Fade to black.