Death and families: Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (Blu-ray review)

No horror movie can come close to the fear, dread, and dark hatreds of Ingmar Bergman’s great chamber drama, Cries and Whispers. To watch it is to face the end of a slow and painful death by cancer. But that’s not all. This film, centered around four women and set almost entirely in one house, forces you to face the neglect and out-and-out cruelties with which we treat those who should be closest to us.

This is not escapist entertainment.

Agnes (Harriet Andersson) is in the last stages of a long decline. She’s weak, terrified, and often in horrible pain. Her two sisters–who can barely stand to be in the same room with each other–have come to the family home to help ease her passing. How do you face the death of someone you love? Or worse yet, someone that you think you should love, but there’s very little love in your soul.

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One suspects that life has been easy for the stunningly beautiful sister Maria (Liv Ullmann). So easy, in fact, that she doesn’t know how to react in a crisis. When she watches someone’s suffering, she doesn’t rush forward to help, but holds back and cries. A respectable, upper-class wife and mother in late 19th century Sweden, she’s as immature and flirtatious as a teenager.

The other sister, Karin (Ingrid Thulin), is almost her polar opposite. She’s cold and remote. She does what she has to do, and behaves properly. But she can’t stand impropriety or physical contact.

The fourth woman is the household maid, Anna (Kari Sylwan). She’s been with the family for years, and spent many of those years nursing Agnes through her long illness. Unlike Maria and Karin, Anne truly loves Agnes. When Agnes complains of being cold, Anne crawls into her bed to keep her warm. Were they lovers? Hard to say. When Anne cuddles Agnes, the image is closer to a mother comforting a small child.

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The confined story appears to happen over a few days. Flashbacks provide some backstory, and introduce us to Maria’s and Karin’s husbands. But even these take place in the family estate.

You can recognize the interior of the house easily; everything is red–walls, carpet, curtains, and furniture. At the end of a scene, the film fades not to black, but to red. It’s a strange choice, but the right one. All of that red produces a sense of blood, of passion, and of the womb.

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Thank cinematographer and long-time Bergman collaborator Sven Nykvist for those reds. He allows the crimson to dominate the image, without it ever looking false or getting out of control. Nykvist clearly deserved the Oscar he won for this picture.

imageAs you would expect, Bergman drew brilliant, loving, yet horrifying performances out of the four leads. When we first meet Agnes in an extended close-up, Andersson’s eyes look directly into the camera with a fear that we all must experience when we face our mortality. When Maria attempts to seduce a former lover (Erland Josephson), her face shows a combination of lust, fear, and pride, confidence, and a deep uncertainty.

I’d have a hard time naming another drama as intense or emotionally realistic as Cries and Whispers. And yet it flies by like an action movie, and has scenes that could have come out of a horror film.

First Impression

Cries and Whispers comes in the usual transparent Criterion case. The cover shows imagea close-up of Andersson–in black and white tinted red (of course.)

When you open the case, you’ll find, along with the disc, a fold-out dominated with an article by Cambridge professor Emma Wilson named–believe it or not–Love and Death. When you’re dealing with such dark matters,the comic reference is appreciated.

Like all Criterion Blu-rays, the disc comes with a timeline so you can bookmark favorite scenes. When you insert the disc into a player on which you played that disc in before, you’ll have the option to get back to where you left off.

How It Looks

Nykvist didn’t win that Oscar for photographing pretty pictures. Or sharp ones. Cries and Whispers uses defused light and soft focus. In other words, this isn’t the movie you use to show off your cool HDTV.

But the transfer does its job. Those ubiquitous reds are deep and rich, yet never bloom out of control. The atmospheric lighting, usually replicating sunlight or oil lamps, does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Neither Bergman nor Nykvist lived long enough to approve of this transfer, but I suspect that they would.

How It Sounds

I have no complaints about the uncompressed PCM 1.0 mono soundtrack. It’s the mix that Bergman approved, and it probably sounds as good here as it did in the projection room. It certainly sounds better than it would on a 35mm print with a 1973 optical soundtrack.

It also comes with an optional English-dubbed track. I didn’t listen to it. The newly-translated English subtitles are just fine.

And the Extras

No commentary track, but still plenty of supplements.

  • Introduction by Ingmar Bergman:1080i; 7 minutes. A subtitled interview from 2003. It’s rather long for an introduction, but it contains some interesting stuff.
  • Harriet Andersson: 1080p; 20 minutes. The actress in conversation with film historian Peter Cowie, recorded in 2012. Quite wonderful, especially the behind-the-scenes footage of the cast and crew goofing off while making this extremely serious film.
  • On-Set Footage: 1080i; 34 minutes. More of that footage, this time with commentary by Peter Cowie. An interesting overview of the film’s production.
  • Ingmar Bergman: Reflections on Life, Death, and Love with Erland Josephson: 1080i; 52 minutes. Interview with director and star from Swedish TV,1999. As I have not yet watched this one.
  • On Solace: 1080p; 13 minutes. 2014 video essay by cinema theorist  ::kogonada. Disappointing. His dull, monotone voice suggested a profundity that simply wasn’t there.

Criterion has done justice to one of Bergman’s best films.

American Cinema’s Problem Child: Birth of a Nation turns 100 today

D. W. Griffith’s Civil War and Reconstruction epic,  The Birth of a Nation, premiered on February 8, 1915, a hundred years ago today (at that time it was called The Clansman; the more grandiose title came later). Cinema changed irrevocably that night.

Much as we would like to, we can’t ignore or underestimate The Birth’s artistry, impact, and commercial success. Even the best films made before 1915 are static and crude. But Birth is fluid, dramatic, and stirring. Even today, it’s action climax–with a riot, an attempted rape, a small battle, and a brave band of heroes riding frantically to the rescue–can stir your blood and leave you ready to cheer.

Except for the very problematic fact that those heroes riding to the rescue are wearing white sheets. Yes, cinema’s first great feature film idolizes the Ku Klux Klan.

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Like Gone with the Wind 15 years later, Birth tells the story of the Civil War and Reconstruction from a very white, southern, aristocratic point of view. The pre-war South is pictured as a paradise where everyone knew their place and were happy with it. Then the war came and ruined everything.

It’s important to look at Birth of a Nation in its historical context. Griffith was the son of former Kentucky slave owners impoverished by war and emancipation. The civil war was a living memory in 1915, almost as recent as Vietnam is today, and the Confederacy was still worshipped. White supremacy was automatically assumed and unquestioned–at least amongst people of European decent.

You also need to consider it in its film historical context. At the beginning of 1915, the earliest feature-length films were only a few years old. Americans were just beginning to make them, and most were four to six reels. The most daring directors, including Griffith, were still discovering and experimenting with cinema’s possibilities–learning to use close-ups, long-shots, moving cameras, and editing for effect. And only a handful of actors understood the subtle, intimate art of performing in close-up.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Griffith releases a 13-reel epic with an intermission and–in its initial run–a full orchestra. All those tricks that Griffith and his contemporaries invented melded together to tell a powerful story in a smooth, relatively sophisticated way. Birth of a Nation can’t claim the technical brilliance and professionalism of the best silent features of the 1920s, but it comes amazingly close.

The film surprised everyone. At a time when the take from a very successful movie was counted in thousands of dollars, Birth made six million for its investors and may have made 60 million at the box office. It was the first film screened at the White House. And people who looked down at the flickers suddenly had to acknowledge that there was something there.

The first half, concentrating on the Civil War, isn’t all that racist. If you have any significant experience watching silent films, you’ll squirm a bit at the servile slaves, the suggestion that a sordid interracial romance caused the war, and the white actors smeared with burnt cork. But really, It’s no worse than Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances.

But the second half, set in Reconstruction, takes hate to a whole other level. The ex-slaves, driven on by an evil mulatto (George Siegmann), take control of the city and oppresses the innocent white people. These hoodwinked former slaves even–God forbid–vote. In one memorable scene, the hero (Henry B. Walthall) refuses to shake the mulatto’s hand. I think this was meant as a cue for the audience to cheer.

(The special evil of mulattos is a common trope in racist mythology. Supposedly, someone who is half-white has the intelligence of a white man but not the moral fiber. If you think this stereotype died away with the civil rights movement, I suggest you revisit Lonesome Dove and consider  Frederic Forrest’s character.)

And let’s not ignore the sexual issues. Among the many horrible things these former slaves want, the worst is white wives. Interracial marriage, in Griffith’s mind, is a form of rape. One character throws herself to her death because a black man expresses his desire to marry her.

The movie has a happy ending, of course, The hero forms the Klan, which takes over the town (and, we assume, the South), and brings back white superiority. They even keep the former slaves from voting. One intertitle at the climax assures us that former enemies of the North and South have now reunited "in defense of their Aryan birthright."

One odd thing: For all of its Southern rabble-rousing, Birth treats Abraham Lincoln as a saint. When they hear about his assassination, the hero’s family are crestfallen.

The Birth of a Nation’s racism was controversial even in 1915. The NAACP formed largely in response to the film. There were riots and calls for its suppression. Even today, a movie theater can’t screen it with risking vandalism.

And yet, I think it should be screened. It’s too important a piece of film history to be ignored. What’s more, it tells a lot about American racism. The senseless fears generated by Barak Obama’s election are a direct ancestor of Griffith’s nightmare view of a politically active black South..

Harold and Maude–Still funny and inspiring after all these years

The 1971 comedy Harold and Maude fit the late hippy era as perfectly as Pink Floyd and the munchies. At a time when young Americans were embracing non-conformity, free love, ecstatic joy, and 40-year-old Marx Brothers movies, this counterculture romance between an alienated and death-obsessed young man and an almost 80-year-old woman made total sense. The broad and outrageous humor helped considerably.

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I revisited the movie Friday night on Blu-ray. I can’t say I love it as much as I used to, but it’s still touching and very funny. And its message is still a good one. But the ending bothers me considerably now much closer to Maude’s age than Harold’s. I give it an A-.

I first saw Harold and Maude a year or so after its original release, and fell in love with it immediately. I saw it countless times in revival movie theaters over the next decade. In the last 30 years, I’ve seen it only twice. The first time was on Laserdisc in 1996 or ’97, when I showed it to my son–who was really not ready for it. The second time was last Friday night.

As the story begins, Harold (Bud Cort) lives in a huge mansion with his very proper and aristocratic mother (a very funny Vivian Pickles). He appears to be about 20, with no responsibilities; he doesn’t work or go to school. But he has hobbies. He drives a hearse. He attends funerals. And he tortures his mother by staging fake suicides. Many of the movie’s biggest laughs come from Pickle’s mildly annoyed reactions to his ghastly fake deaths; she’s clearly used to them.

Then he meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), another fan of funerals. She’s almost 80. She loves life–her own and others. While Harold is quiet and introverted, she’s loud and open to anything. She talks about her past political activism. She jokes, flirts, dabbles in the arts, and steals cars so that people won’t get too attached to material objects.

And of course she’s exactly what Harold needs. She opens him up and allows him to see that there is more to life than death. Within the space of a few days, they become close friends, then lovers.

The story could easily become sappy, but writer Colin Higgins and director Hal Ashby avoid the trap with broad and effective humor. Harold’s shrink, priest, and war-monger uncle are almost as funny as his mother (the priest has a short but pricelessly hilarious monolog near the end). Two encounters with a frustrated cop bring additional laughs. And a running gag where Harold continually sabotages his mother’s attempts at finding him a bride are priceless.

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Even watching it alone–not the best way to see any comedy–I was laughing out loud much of the time.

But there are dark sides to the story, and not just in the funeral and suicide gags. Maude lets on briefly that her life has included some serious suffering. And one shot, so short you might miss it, tells you just how horrible her past had been.

Ashby handles the sexual part of their relationship carefully. There’s only one chaste kiss. The only time you see them in bed, they’re on opposite sides and not touching. The film is rated PG.

I can’t discuss Harold and Maude without mentioning the songs by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens. At his artistic height, he was a brilliant singer and songwriter (if a bit didactic), and his songs fit this film perfectly, both musically and thematically. It seems impossible that the man who wrote "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out" would become a fundamentalist who would embrace the call to murder a novelist. But we have to face the fact that it happened.

Now I would like to discuss the ending. So if you haven’t seen it, and don’t want your first screening spoiled, you should stop reading this now.

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Okay. Is everyone here ready to read about the ending?

Maude commits suicide on her 80th birthday, just before Harold was to propose. It’s not entirely a surprise. Some casual comments she makes beforehand suggest her plan. "I’ll be eighty next week. A good time to move on, don’t you think?"

Now, if she was decrepit, miserable, and facing a horrible and fatal illness, I could understand her action. But she’s a very young 80, living life to the fullest. She’s just acquired a lover a quarter of her age. She has a lot to live for.

The filmmakers could have found a better ending. She might have rejected Harold’s marriage proposal, and sent him on his way, explaining that she doesn’t want to be tied down. She could be facing a horrible and fatal illness, and wanted to go before the symptoms took over her life.

Either of those could still have motivated Harold to do what he does in the movie’s wonderful last few seconds, when he drives his car over a cliff, then walks away strumming a banjo.

Die Hard: Even Better on the Big Screen

Sunday afternoon, I finally saw Die Hard in a movie theater. And not just any movie theater, but the Castro. I’ve liked this movie for a long time. But between the big screen, the powerful sound system, and the enthusiastic audience, it was a whole new experience.

And a great experience. I used to give Die Hard an A. Now I give it an A+.

To begin with, it has one of the great action hero plots. Very evil people, who don’t care how many innocent bystanders they kill to achieve their goal, take over a location where they control who gets in and who gets out. Luckily, one man (always a man) is in that location but out of their control. He plays cat and mouse with the bad guys, killing them one at a time while avoiding being killed.

By now, that plot is a cliché. But Die Hard did it first, and more importantly, did it best.

The movie’s power comes from its willingness to build a situation before the action starts. For the first 25 minutes, Die Hard is a relationship drama. NYC policeman John McClane (Bruce Willis) arrives in LA just before Christmas, hoping to reconcile with his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia). She relocated to California, with their children, for her job. She’s a rising executive; he’s a working-class cop. His attempts to reconcile turn into arguments; he acts like a sexist pig, then regrets it the moment she leaves the room.

All this happens in the new, not-quite-finished skyscraper where she works.

Then a dozen well-armed, highly-trained bad guys take over the building, kill a few people, then hold everyone hostage. But not everyone. They missed McClane. Barefoot and initially armed with only a pistol, he has to do what he can to stop them and save the hostages–including his wife.

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Willis doesn’t play McClane as a superhero. He’s obviously very clever when cornered, but he’s clearly a regular guy in a horrible situation. He spends much of his time talking to himself, wondering how he got into this awful situation and why he just did something stupid.

He’s also, it’s quite clear, a very annoying person. But in this situation, he uses that character flaw to his advantage. He makes the bad guys angry, and when they’re angry, they make mistakes.

Much of the film’s pleasure comes from his discussions, via walkie talkie, with the chief bad guy. Alan Rickman plays one of the great, suave villains. He’s civilized, well-mannered, well-dressed, and witty. But he’s also a cold-blooded murderer. The hero and villain come to respect each other, and enjoy their talks, even though each wants desperately to kill the other.

But this is an action movie, not a drama. It’s filled with gunfire, explosions, and impressive stunts. These action scenes are as well-staged and as well-edited as any you can find. They keep the suspense and the adrenaline running throughout the movie.

They’re also, I should mention, very violent. Die Hard earns its R rating, and not for sex or nudity.

I missed Die Hard when it first came out, and saw it a few years later on Laserdisc. I rented it several times–both on Laserdisc and DVD. Then, when I was researching an article for PCWorld , 20th Century-Fox sent me the Die Hard box set, containing the original and the three sequels released as of that time.

But on Sunday, I finally got to see it properly. (Okay, it wasn’t a 70mm print, but it was a very good DCP, and aside from some soft scenes early on, I can’t complain.) When the screen fills most of your field of vision (I was in the third row), and you can’t hit a pause button, McClane’s sense of entrapment feels personal. After all, you can’t glance at the bookshelf or get up for food (at least not without missing something).

But the audience really made this screening special. Applause, laughs, and cheers turned the matinee into a group experience. You don’t get that feeling when you watch Die Hard in the living room.

The movie is so much fun that, even though I find more implausibility each time I see it, I don’t care.

If you doubt how good the basic story is, consider how many rip-offs we’ve seen since the original came out in 1988. We’ve had Speed, Under Siege, The Rock, Sudden Death, Air Force One, and last year’s White House Down. And those are just the ones I saw and liked.

Sequels are another story. The only really good one was Die Hard with a Vengeance, at least until it fell apart in the third act. The sequels to the rip-offs aren’t worth discussing.

But the original is one of the great action movies. And it’s much more fun in a theater.

The Castro screened Die Hard on a double bill with Scrouged. But other responsibilities (including writing this report) kept me for seeing the second feature.

Saving Private Lebowski at Rio Bravo: 25 movies added to the National Film Registry

As they do every year, the Library of Congress has added 25 additional motion pictures to its National Film Registry. According the press release I received Wednesday, "Selection to the registry will help ensure that these films will be preserved for all time."

Or at least until Congress cuts the budget to provide additional income for the Koch brothers.

The LoC doesn’t claim that these are the 25 best films not yet already in the Registry. Movies are chosen for their cultural or historical importance. They may show a way of life that few have seen and that perhaps no longer exists. They may represent a new technical or stylistic cinematic direction. They may have been huge commercial hits or developed a large cult following.

On the other hand, some achieved cultural or historical importance by being really, really good.

There’s only one movie on the list that I would give (and have given) an A+, Howard Hawk’s Rio Bravo.

I may one day give an A+ to The Big Lebowski. But since I don’t give that high a grade to films less than 20 years old, we’ll have to wait a few years to find out.

I’m also glad to see Little Big Man on the list. I haven’t seen this film in many years, but I loved it when it was new. I might love it again.

Some of the films have strong followings, of which I don’t belong. Saving Private Ryan struck me as a mediocre war movie with a great opening sequence. And Rosemary’s Baby, for me at least, just barely works. I hated Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory almost as much as I hated the book. I’ve never even thought about seeing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; maybe I’m missing something.

There are a lot of films here that I would like to see, some of which I didn’t know existed until I read the press release. These include the unfinished Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day and Please Don’t Bury Me Alive!, "considered by historians to be the first Chicano feature film." Amongst those I’ve heard of but haven’t seen are The Power and the Glory, Preston Sturges’ first produced screenplay, and a major influence on Citizen Kane.

Someone should do a festival of all of these films.

The Best Years of Our Lives at the Castro

There’s no better movie for Veteran’s Day than William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives. A huge commercial hit and the Best Picture Oscar winner for 1946, it’s now all but forgotten. That’s too bad, because Best Years is not only an excellent film, it also deals with an issue that’s unfortunately still with us–how to integrate war veterans back into civilian life.

So I was delighted when I saw that it was coming to the Castro on Veteran’s Day, and I made sure I’d see it. It screened on a double bill with First Blood–the semi-serious action movie about a Vietnam vet that launched the unexpected Rambo franchise.

Before the film started, the Castro entertained us with a slideshow of coming attractions and music appropriate to the immediate postwar period. Then came the organ concert, followed by The Best Years of Our Lives.

As I explained in my review of the book Five Came Back, Wyler was a returning veteran himself when he made Best Years–and a disabled one. He left Hollywood soon after Pearl Harbor to film the real war for the government. He lost most of his hearing in the war, and Best Years was his first film after coming home.

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The film intertwines the separate but sometimes connecting stories of three veterans who meet and become friends as they return to their home town (which actually appears to be a small city) after the war. They didn’t know each other in the service, and they never crossed paths in their previous civilian lives.

Al (Fredric March) was a rich, middle-aged man, a husband and father, and a respected banker when he walked away from all that to fight fight for his country (as did Wyler). In the army, he never got passed sergeant. Now he has to reacquaint himself with his wife (Myrna Loy) and grown children. But he’s developed a drinking problem, and he’s having trouble with the bank’s less-than-humane policies.

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Fred (Dana Andrews) comes from a desperately poor background. He was a soda jerk before the war. But in the Air Force, he became a bombardier, a captain, and a decorated hero. But back home, he’s a nobody.

He married Marie (Virginia Mayo) shortly before going overseas, without really knowing her. So along with finding a job, he has to deal with a harpy of a wife who deeply regrets that she didn’t marry a rich man. To make things more complicated, he’s falling in love with Al’s daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright).

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But the most touching story of all is that of Homer, a former high school athlete who lost both of his hands in the war. He’s played by non-actor Harold Russell, who’s own story inspired the character. You feel Homer’s pain because you know that it’s Harold’s own pain and loss you see on screen.

On the surface, Homer seems at ease with his disability. He likes to show off what he can do with his hooks, and he often jokes about them. But the jovial nature makes a thin mask for his fear and depression.

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Through these three men and the people around them, Wyler and screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood show us both the problems of returning veterans and an uneasily rigid class system. The wealthy Al just walks into his bank and gets a promotion. Homer is clearly middle-class, although not much is made of that. Fred was born poor and will remain so. The culture insists on that.

The film is beautifully photographed by the great Gregg Toland. The songwriter, musician, and actor Hoagy Carmichael does a nice supporting role as a favorite uncle who owns a bar and plays piano (that’s Carmichael really playing). Despite its nearly three-hour running time, the movie never lags. I wouldn’t cut a frame.

I give Best Years an A.

My only complaint is with Hugo Friedhofer’s music score. There’s too much melodramatic music.

This was my third viewing of The Best Years of Our Lives, and my first in a theater. The crowd wasn’t big, but it was enthusiastic. A drunken speech that grew into well-deserved sarcasm earned applause. And it was nice to have people to laugh with in this serious film’s few jokes. The large screen allowed me to truly admire Toland’s photography.

The Castro screened the film off a DCP. Most of it looked excellent–like a mint 35mm print without the vibration. But a few scenes looked horribly contrasty and, yes, electronic. I assume these ones came from a bad source, and were over processed in an attempt to fix their shortcomings.

If it had been a Friday or Saturday night, I might have stayed for First Blood. But I needed a full night’s sleep.

Thoughts on The Bicycle Thief

If you want to understand Italian neorealism, the desperation of poverty, or simply the power of cinema, you have to see Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece, The Bicycle Thief (AKA Bicycle Thieves or Ladri di biciclette). You’ll find it deservedly on any short list of great motion pictures.

This film pits the desperately poor against the desperately poor, in a story that you know, deep down in your bones, can’t possibly end well. And yet, there are many touches of beauty, human kindness, and humor. It also has a young Enzo Staiola in what is probably the most adorable little kid role in the history of movies. Staiola’s Bruno, a practical but adoring boy still at the age of father worship, provides most of the humor, as well as the story’s heart. The protagonist, Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) sacrifices so much not for his own benefit, but for his family–especially his young son.

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I first saw The Bicycle Thief, in 16mm, in a college class in 1972. I instantly fell in love with it. And yet, I didn’t get around to seeing it again for many years. I next saw it, in 35mm, at the UC Theatre of blessed memory. That was probably in the 1980s, although I’m not sure. I revisited it again last Saturday night, streaming off of Netflix.

Let’s get the multiple versions of the title out of the way. The film was originally released in its native Italy as Ladri di biciclette. According to both Google’s translation tool and Wikipedia, that translates into Bicycle Thieves (or at least bike thieves). But when it opened in America, it was called The Bicycle Thief. Today, Netflix uses the singular title; Criterion the plural one. Both seem appropriate, but I stick with The Bicycle Thief because that’s the title I first knew, and the one on every version I’ve seen..

As the film begins, the unemployed Antonio, desperate to feed his family, finally gets a job–in part because he owns a bike, although his wife has to hock their bed sheets to get it out of hock. Then, on his first day on the job, his bike is stolen. Most of the film follows Antonio and Bruno in a desperate search through Rome, hoping against hope to find the bike.

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(Why would a grown man take his young son on such a quest? Officially, it’s because Bruno did the bike-repair chores, and therefore knows it better than anyone. The real reason, of course, is that Bruno adds to the drama while providing adorableness and  comic relief.)

Neither Maggiorani nor Staiola were professional actors. That was the point of neorealism. As much as possible, the short-lived style used real people in real locations to capture realistic stories of desperate poverty.

De Sica makes sure you know that Antonio’s poverty is the norm, not an exception. Even the thief, when you get to know him, is desperate and did what he had to do.

Despite (or perhaps because of) their lack of experience, both Maggiorani and Staiola display considerable acting talent and star charisma. Both had modest movie careers after this film. Unfortunately, at certain angles, Maggiorani reminded me of a dark-haired Dick Cavett, but since Cavett was a kid when the film was made, I can’t blame that on the actor or the director.

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This is a sad, heart-breaking story, relieved only by the love of family–even if it’s the family that is in crisis. I definitely give it an A+.

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