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The Bicycle Thief

April 9, 2010

One question arises during a recession: With so much material wealth, and with so many able individuals willing to work, why is it that so many people are poor and unemployed? The answer doesn’t lie within the nature of the people, but within failures of the system at large. A movie that captures this state of affairs is The Bicycle Thief, which will be running at the Melwood Screening Room from April 9th to April 11th.

Lardi di Biciclette

The Bicycle Thief, Lardi di Bicilette in Italian, takes place in postwar Italy. It starts with a scene of young men lined up in front of the unemployment office demanding work. The officer only has four jobs to dole out, and he has already chosen who will get the jobs. Antonio Ricci, played by Lamberto Maggiorani, is given a job hanging posters around the city. The only hitch is that he needs a bicycle to do the job. However, he had previously pawned his bicycle, so his wife sells all their sheets to raise enough money to get his bicycle back.

The most striking scene in the film happens in the pawnshop. The pawnbroker collects her sheets, and then goes into a giant backroom filled floor-to-ceiling with laundry. He has to climb up over ten feet to find room to put hers. This scene shows the absurdity of a system that allows so much poverty in the midst of plenty.

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Ricci then gets in a different line at the same pawnshop and retrieves his bicycle: one bicycle among many at the shop. For a moment he and his family are joyful. They can rebuild their lives, earn some money, eat well.

But on Friday, Ricci’s first day of work, his bicycle is stolen. He spends the weekend with his young son, searching for the thief, for the bicycle, for his chance at a livelihood and dignity.

Bicycle Black Market

The rest of the movie is his search. Everyone, including Ricci, perpetrate indignities. The police brush him off after he registers that his bike was stolen. Hucksters sell stolen bicycles at an open black market, and the police turn their backs on such a flagrant violation of the law. An old man who spoke with the thief claims not to know the boy. Ricci becomes aggressive with him, even to the point of bullying.

If you have ever been unemployed, if you have ever felt that the world was cold, unjust and uncaring, if you have ever been robbed, if you have ever had to beg for work, or had to compromise your morals for self preservation, then this movie will resonate. It shows how the system we’ve created harbors small cruelties, forcing us to turn into people we despise.

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