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Sunday, May 25, 2008

BICYCLE THIEVES (1948)

Vittorio De Sica’s great film still earns all the accolades long tossed its way. Film academics pick at him for impure Neo-Realism, for excessive sentimentality and for, heaven forfend, too much moviemaking craft. Pay no attention to those gents behind the curtain, instead watch the amount of emotion De Sica gets into the straightforward opening scenes before we even get to the journey; the search for the missing bicycle that takes up two-thirds of the film and which plays out like a religious parable as father & son search for a modern Holy Grail.

The key to De Sica’s genius is how he used so-called Neo-Realist techniques to an artistic purpose that leapt far beyond the rules of any system. Unforgettable mastery, put at the service of a seemingly simple story of a family trying to eke out a living in post-WWII Rome. (Check out his large & small camera moves if you can hold your emotions in check.) The largely amateur cast is beyond praise with a kid actor who stands comparison with Jackie Coogan in Chaplin’s THE KID. (Look fast to spot a cut-out Charlie Chaplin figure.) De Sica’s two other Neo-Realist classics, SHOESHINE and UMBERTO D are, in their own ways, just as devastating, just as beautiful.

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