For the first post, one of my favorite film images of all time: little Bruno looking up at his father in Bicycle Thieves

Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 Italian Neo-Realist classic, Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette), follows a man, Antonio Ricci, and his son Bruno as they search through the lonely war-torn city of Rome for the stolen bicycle that is Ricci’s last hope of holding a job, and thus of providing for his family. In an odyssey that becomes increasingly hopeless as Ricci descends ever closer to the thief who stole his bike at the start of the film, Bruno tags along beside and behind his distraught, self-absorbed father, loyal as a puppy. The pathos that De Sico creates between father and son through his on-location, black-and-white mise-en-scene and the perfect staging of his two male characters, the younger and the older, is incredibly affecting, especially as it operates on a largely silent, purely visual level, thus making the story of loss, love and survival optimally universal and heart-wrenching. Little Bruno, a visual miniature of the distracted Ricci, earnestly follows in his father’s footsteps and struggles to keep up with his larger strides as they move across the various landscapes, crowded or empty or broken, of the city; and always, through it all, he looks up at his father, into his father’s face as Ricci searches aimlessly for the bicycle he will never find. Of course, this look is both literal, for Ricci is presumably the one leading his son, whom he often seems to forget is there, on this hopeless journey, and yet it is also figurative, for Bruno wants nothing more than to be like his father. Unfortunately, his idealization crumbles; the disintegration of Ricci’s already-cracking masculinity and human dignity when he himself is caught trying to steal a bicycle, and Bruno’s terrifying realization of the truth of his father, are some of the most heartbreaking moments in all of cinema.

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2 comments on “For the first post, one of my favorite film images of all time: little Bruno looking up at his father in Bicycle Thieves

  1. Gwen says:

    “Neorealism brought events and emotions to the big screen” (Francesco Rosi), here father and son relationship in post-war Italy.
    Paisa (Rossellini, 1946) gives us another heartbreaking moment of that kind: a little boy tries to explain to a GI with few words that he’s lost his parents: Dove mamma e papa? …. Capisci? boom boom boom. The GI runs aways, unable to confront the boy’s intense look.

    • Jackie says:

      Thanks, Gwen, for bringing attention to this social quality of these films, for Italian Neo-Realism portrayed and helped deal with the heartbreaking aftermath and devastating tragedies of the postwar world, specifically here in Italy, which was intensely physically decimated during the war’s fighting and which had experienced absolute loss with the defeat of fascism, the collapse of the economy, and the decline in religious faith. These amazing, important films straighforwardly addressed such harsh realities in a way that was previously unprecedented, and had lasting worldwide impact on cinematic history, for they proved the seriousness with which films could be made and for which audiences would choose to see. The impact of such films was felt in Hollywood and the US, such as with the rise of social issue films, European and artsy independent films, and documentary filmmaking in the 1940s and 1950s, on through the 1960s, with a lasting impact being made on the new generation of filmmakers who grew up watching such affective, memorable images like Bruno and the little boy in Paisan. For more information on Italian Neo-Realism and the history of Italian cinema, see Martin Scorsese’s documentary My Voyage to Italy.

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