Emi De Sica
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My dear friend,
As you can imagine, they spoke enormously about your film to me on Sunday. I did not go because I was afraid of it being too wonderful. Sunday I received many phone calls. I was envious. I did not want to go and see it. Of course, then I went to the premiere at the Barberini cinema, hoping it would be a little less wonderful than they had told me. Instead, it is even more wonderful, but in a different way. You still repeat yourself, you are like Verdi and Chaplin: you do not think: you feel.
Years ago I told you that you did not understand anything, and I said many times geniuses do not understand anything because they feel, because they see. Now, I have just one thing to say to you. You ‘rise’, while We (all Italian directors) ‘set’.
Mario Soldati, letter to Vittorio De Sica, 26 November 1948
Ladri di biciclette certainly is neorealist, by ail the principles one can deduce from the best Italian films since 1946. The story is from the lower classes, almost populist: an incident in the daily life of a worker. […] Truly an insignificant, even a banal incident; a workman spends a whole day looking in vain in the streets of Rome for the bicycle someone has stolen from him. […] Plainly there is not enough material here even for a news item: the whole story would not deserve two fines in a stray-dog column. […] In itself the event contains no proper dramatic valence. It takes on meaning only because of the social (and not psychological or aesthetic) position of the victim. Without the haunting specter of unemployment, which places the event in the Italian society of 1948, it would be an utterly banal misadventure.[…] If Ladri di biciclette is a true masterpiece, comparable in rigor to Paisan it is for certain precise reasons, none of which emerge either from a simple outline of the scenario or from a superficial disquisition on the technique of the mise en scène.
The scenario is diabolically clever in its construction; beginning with the alibi of a current event it makes good use of a number of systems of dramatic coordinates radiating in all directions. […] The thesis implied is wondrously and outrageously simple: in the world where this workman lives, the poor must steal from each other in order to survive. But this thesis is never stated as such, it is just that events are so linked together that they have the appearance of a formal truth while retaining an anecdotal quality. […] Clearly, and I could find twenty more examples: events and people are never introduced in support of a social thesis – but the thesis emerges fully armed and all the more irrefutable because it is presented to us as something thrown in into the bargain. It is our intelligence that discerns and shapes it, not the film. De Sica wins every play on the board without ever having made a bet.
This technique is not entirely new in Italian films and we have elsewhere stressed its value at length both apropos of Paisan and of Germany Year Zero, but these two films were based on themes from either the Resistance or the war. Ladri di biciclette is the first decisive example of the possibility of the conversion of this kind of objectivity to other, similar subjects. De Sica and Zavattini have transferred neorealism from the Resistance to the Revolution.
André Bazin, What Is Cinema?, University of California Press, 1971
Cast and Credits
Sog.: Cesare Zavattini dal romanzo omonimo di Luigi Bartolini. Scen.: Oreste Bianconi, Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi, Vittorio De Sica, Gerardo Guerrieri. F.: Carlo Muontori. M.: Eraldo Da Roma. Scgf.: Antonino Traverso. Mus.: Alessandro Cicognini. Int.: Lamberto Maggiorani (Antonio Ricci), Enzo Stajola (Bruno Ricci), Lianella Carell (Maria Ricci), Elena Altieri (la patronessa), Gino Saltamerenda (Baiocco), Vittorio Antonucci (il ladro), Giulio Chiari (attacchino), Michele Sakara (il segretario alla beneficenza), Fausto Guerzoni (filodrammatico), Carlo Jachino (il mendicante). Prod.: Produzioni De Sica. DCP. D.: 88’. Bn.
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