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"Bicycle Thieves" or "The Bicycle Thief"?

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Whatever title you use, I saw this film last Friday. It's in the Lists area as Bicycle Thieves, and I've learned that this was the original title. Netflix, and I think most American stores/rental houses/etc have it as The Bicycle Thief.

Putting aside artistic integrity or any other such notions, which title do you feel is better?

Personally, the second title ("The Bicycle Thief") strikes me as significantly better than the original. It feeds a new understanding into the film once you've seen it, whereas the former is more of a straight description.

Lovely film, by the way. Was stunned and pleased to learn that the lead actor, Lamberto Maggiorani, wasn't really an actor at all. I've learned that this is a hallmark of the neorealist genre, and in a sense it removes the idea that talent has anything to do with the performance, but in the end it was certainly a powerful depiction. I think Maggiorani is the best thing about the film.

But, I digress. I'd be interested to hear people's thoughts on the two titles, and/or the film in general.



Interesting thread, Yoda.

Like you, I feel The Bicycle Thief is a more appropriate translation. In academic writing though, I always refer to the film by its original Italian title, Ladri di biciclette, merely for the sake of clarity.



As for the film itself, I can't speak highly enough of it. As you have already said Yoda, the film is a tour de force of cinematic humanism, deftly combining the locales of post-Mussolini Italy with long takes and extreme depth of field shots. I think it was Roberto Rosselini who classified the neo realist movement as the 'cinema of the poor'; indeed that may account for the modest commercial response in Italy - the ordinary person found the film, like stuff like Ossessione and Roma, Citta Aperta, an uncomfortable mirror of the time.

It's particularly interesting that you mention Lamberto Maggiorani. Film legend has it that De Sica cast him for his hands; apparently to De Sica they symbolised supplication. De Sica was wary with the professional's natural ability to deviate between emotions and by casting an amateur he turns the project from potential sentimental melodrama to an ultra realist docu-drama of alienation and loss. Slightly verbose I know, but you get what I mean; that's why Andre Bazin wouldnt stop banging on about it!



Although i'm sure your bored now, here is another interesting titbit. I forget who, it might have been Selznik, maybe Jack Warner, anyway word is they approached De Sica about the project, offering additional funding on the condition that Cary Grant would play the luckless Antonio Ricci. Now, anyone who has seen the film will know how inappropriate this idea was!



Now you got me curious, what "new understanding" does it feed into the film? It's been a while since I've seen it (well actually only a few months, but I have the memory of a goldfish) but I'd say The bicycle thief would have been an appropriate, if too literal a title. The plural perhaps indicates that the film isn't a story about a singular person/incident, but of the state of post-war Italy where people are forced to fight for survival in such undignified ways?

Oh and I don't think "lovely" is the word I'd use to describe it. I found it utterly gut wrenching. In any case, it's a masterpiece by any standard.



Now you got me curious, what "new understanding" does it feed into the film? It's been a while since I've seen it (well actually only a few months, but I have the memory of a goldfish) but I'd say The bicycle thief would have been an appropriate, if too literal a title. The plural perhaps indicates that the film isn't a story about a singular person/incident, but of the state of post-war Italy where people are forced to fight for survival in such undignified ways?
The thing it feeds into, to my mind, is...

WARNING: "Bicycle Thieves/The Bicycle Thief" spoilers below
...that you believe the title refers to the man who steals Antonio's bike, but in the last several minutes you realize that it refers to him, instead.

There are some subtle ways that one could read a similar re-interpretation even with the original title, for example...

WARNING: "Bicycle Thieves/The Bicycle Thief" spoilers below
...one could assume that the "Bicycle Thieves" refers both to the first thief and his accomplices, and then realize it refers to the first thief and Antonio...but that requires a little more stretching than the other title.

You make a great point about it representing all the desperate people in post-war Italy, though. That would explain why it was Bicycle Thieves, which is all-encompassing, and not "The Bicycle Thieves", which is more specific, and implies the story is only about the people we see. I think I prefer "The Bicycle Thief" most, but they do both serve to illustrate something larger.
Oh and I don't think "lovely" is the word I'd use to describe it. I found it utterly gut wrenching. In any case, it's a masterpiece by any standard.
True, true. Not sure why I chose that word, though I think the dinner scene has something to do with it. I guess I was mainly just thinking of how genuine Maggiorani's performance was, if one can really call it a performance under the circumstances. That raises some interesting issues about acting in general, actually. Might be worth a new thread.

I didn't find it gut wrenching, for whatever reason. Perhaps its age and the subtitles created a bit of a distance that made it seem more abstract. It did make me think a about desperation, what it must be like for people who have the misfortune to be born into a time that has been broken somehow.



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Take it from an old geezer, it is The Bicycle Thief. This is the first I have ever heard it referred to as The Bicycle Thieves.
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I didn't find it gut wrenching
Ok that's just odd. I've recommended it to several people and they've all been very moved by it.
WARNING: "Bicycle Thieves" spoilers below
One of the things I found so great about it is that, very smartly, it created a sense of foreboding from the start by establishing just how important the bike is to Antonio and his family. Then you have that great scene when he reluctantly gets dragged into the building leaving it outside (I don't know about you but I was pretty tense during that one) where the director teases you and flirts with the possibility that he will lose it so that, even when it does eventually come, the dreadful moment of theft hits you smack in the gut. By that time you're completely hooked to Antonio's destiny so everything that comes after it is like having your guts in a vice. That final scene was an emotional knock-down, just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it does, and you're down and out wondering why you were so lucky never to have had to go through something so humiliating...or that's my Catholic guilt talking.


So yeah...a tour de force would be an apt term to describe it. I got Umberto D after that but have yet to make myself watch it. Although I have a feeling it's going to be pretty hard to better this one which is, in my mind, one of the most well rounded, thought out and realized films I've ever seen. And yes, I agree, the pitch-perfect casting was a big part of its success (I remember being really amazed, not so much by the lead actor as with the kid who really was a natural born actor). Props to De Sica for coaxing such amazing performances from complete amateurs.



Ok that's just odd. I've recommended it to several people and they've all been very moved by it.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I was moved by it. I guess I just use the term "gut wrenching" a little differently. I guess I just mean that I wasn't visibly shaken or anything. It caused me to think more than anything else, I suppose, which is the way I usually respond to films that move me. I thought its impact was almost confusing given how straightforward and sparse it is. It goes to show you how little a film's actual events can have to do with its quality.

WARNING: "Bicycle Thieves" spoilers below
One of the things I found so great about it is that, very smartly, it created a sense of foreboding from the start by establishing just how important the bike is to Antonio and his family. Then you have that great scene when he reluctantly gets dragged into the building leaving it outside (I don't know about you but I was pretty tense during that one) where the director teases you and flirts with the possibility that he will lose it so that, even when it does eventually come, the dreadful moment of theft hits you smack in the gut. By that time you're completely hooked to Antonio's destiny so everything that comes after it is like having your guts in a vice. That final scene was an emotional knock-down, just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it does, and you're down and out wondering why you were so lucky never to have had to go through something so humiliating...or that's my Catholic guilt talking.
Exactly.

WARNING: "Bicycle Thieves/The Bicycle Thief" spoilers below
Ebert said the same thing: that De Sica was toying with us. He knows we know the title, so he leaves the bike out there to get our attention, even though it isn't stolen. It was a very simple, elegant way to rachet up the tension, which is no mean feat given that we all know the bike's going to get stolen at some point.



Italian realism is hard to discuss for me because it's so obvious, but not in a bad way, just in how remarkable it is to be so simple yet effective. I know Fellini got into his fantasticality through dream interpretations and whatnot, but I wonder if the genre as a whole was a movement away from films like this.

If so, why? Did Italian realism just lose its "struck a nerve" element after a while or were auteurs just hungry to move the idea to a more cerebral platform?



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Yes, I do love how De Sica toys with us there. It is wonderful to know that I was not the only one to experience that dialogue between the expectations set up by the title and the narrative.

Basically... without spoilers... what the particular title Bicycle Thieves suggests to me is the idea that being a bicycle thief is the most basic metaphor for what we, as property owning persons, are in our society.

Overall, I really connect with it as criticism of the idea of property. Property, by its very nature, makes us all bicycle thieves. Or rather... thievery is the nature should be the relation we have with property...

I really wanted to write this into an analysis/review, but I'd much rather discuss it here, I realize.

The Bicycle Thief seems much more like a comment on the main character within the context of the story.

The difference is subtle, but I do not think I am alone in feeling the more universalized nature of a predicate without an article.
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Considering that neorealism arose out of poverty and championed the poor, often starring amateurs and being made on small budgets, it makes sense that the lack of money or some basic human needs (food, shelter) were significant in the films' plotlines. As people got further away from the end of WWII and the economy improved, it also makes sense that some neorealist filmmakers "went Hollywood" or reacted in other ways, going to surrealism. However, it's also interesting to note that about the time Fellini turned to surrealism that Pier Paolo Pasolini appeared as a new neorealist, Communist filmmaker in Italy.
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Now that mark f has convinced me that communism is even minimally associated with neorealism, I absolutely feel this is a communist film.

===

Ok that's just odd. I've recommended it to several people and they've all been very moved by it.
What's really odd is why this would make Yoda's reaction odd. Who were these "people" exactly?

Odd.



Bicycle Thieves should be the politically correct title as Italian neorealism follows though a politically collectivist/socialist vein of thought, rather than an individualist/capitalist train of thought. The ideas expressed, which may have a common ground of understanding on these boards, are not entirely the basis of singular characters illustrating their singular problems. Rather, it is a basis of common characters illustrating their common problems. Understanding this, I do believe this is why Criterion decided to release their version with this, in my eyes, more practical, title.
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I have no idea what the title is, it's kind of funny though that someone from Italy or their film industry couldn't sort this out. I'm inclined to agree with Fenwick though, the more "foreign" films I see the more I'm starting to just use their original title, in whatever language its in.

Bicycle Thieves does seem more likely though for our purposes.
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Re: it being about all property in general. I suppose it's possible, but we happy capitalists can enjoy it on very different levels regardless of intent. That said, it's worth pointing out that the word "thieves" kind of implies that property exists, anyway,



That said, it's worth pointing out that the word "thieves" kind of implies that property exists, anyway,
I'll try not to get political here, (I really don't like politics), but for clarification the ideals of property do exist in the Marxist/collectivist sense. Though his philosophical groundings for property were highly different from say the ideals of private property which existed in the Aristotlian sense. To the Marxists, property existed, but it all belonged to a "democratic" state/collective where no one had complete control. Anyway, I'm doing my best to avoid the political aspect of this because nothing ruffles feathers more than politics it seems, so instead I'm trying to approach the topic from a philosophical standpoint. (Whether I agree or disagree with any of it is something I'm staying out of.)



Yeah, I realize it's not technically exclusive to capitalism, though I'd argue that the moment Marxism declares that the state can have property, but an individual cannot, that it begins to contradict itself. Any introduction of the concept of property will inevitably lead to some kind of tension. But it's a fair point.



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Re: it being about all property in general. I suppose it's possible, but we happy capitalists can enjoy it on very different levels regardless of intent. That said, it's worth pointing out that the word "thieves" kind of implies that property exists, anyway,
Property exists as theft. The initial thief was only returning the bike to its natural, undifferentiated existence at bicycle black market. The main character is the thief from the beginning for claiming ownership over it. Throughout the film, he struggles to absurdly uncover his bike out the supposedly hundreds all around the city. This specificity is what makes his struggle so difficult and so vain. It is, the film claims, what makes property so vain. In the end, when the man see all the bicycles left out for the taking, he finally understands that property does not exist and that he should have the right to own those bicycle as much as their supposed owners. In fact, he should have even more of a right since he needs a bicycle to make his living.

Therefore, at the end of the film, he is reduced to the same motivation of the initial thief. However, neither thieves are truly thieves. Society's perpetuation of property is the true thief for preventing the just distribution of property to those who truly need them.

Now, the analog of the black market as the undifferentiated, public domain is slightly skewed since it is nevertheless still a market... this does introduce a rather humorous irony to the meaning I am claiming.

My conclusion is that the title Bicycle Thieves refers to society as the thief.