The Bike Thief: The Desperate Acts People Are Pushed To
Written and Directed by Matt Chambers.
The debut feature film by British filmmaker Matt Chambers The bike thief is a heartbreaking drama about a poor immigrant family living in London. In title and subject, the film pays deliberate and admiring homage to the famous 1948 Italian neorealist film, Bike thieves ( Ladri di bicycle —American title, The bicycle thief ), directed by Vittorio De Sica (1902-1974).
It turns out there’s real substance to the artistic and social connection the new film has with the original classic – to the young director’s credit.
As in the previous Italian film, the narrative in The bike thief focuses on a means of transport essential to the survival of a worker and his family. Through the unfolding of its story, the film offers a scathing commentary on the whole social structure.
Of the 1948 work, a critic once noted that “the filmmaker compels the viewer to think, as well as feel, to ponder the question: what must be done to make this a truly human society?” (Edward Murray, Ten Movie Classics – A Review)
Chambers’ film is set in London, a city characterized by grotesque social inequality and home to hundreds of billionaires and multi-millionaires. From this point of view, the social divide is much greater in contemporary Britain than it was in post-war Italy. Concentrating in itself the malignant inequality that is tearing British society apart, London has inevitably become an epicenter of the pandemic.
Filmed before the COVID-19 outbreak, The bike thief concerns an unnamed Romanian immigrant (simply “the Rider”) (Alec Secăreanu) who works as a motorcycle pizza delivery boy across the metropolis. He needs income to help support his wife Elena (Anamaria Marinca), teenage daughter Miri (Alexia Maria Proca) and baby, housed in a cramped apartment in the housing estate. His bulbous, dark-visored helmet lends a sense of anonymity and self-quarantine as he roams the impersonal quarters.
The Rider’s reality is a daily chore of dropping his wife at her cleaning job, riding his daughter’s bike to school, and then working nights for a living wage. His scooter is what keeps the family from falling into homelessness and destitution.
However, one memorable night, after a shift, his bike is stolen in front of the pizzeria. The despair then etched on his face is reminiscent of that of a person condemned to death. He cannot tell his wife at this point, who is simultaneously losing her job to a petty-bourgeois employer. The stress and threat of his situation grows second by second.
With the help of a teenager living in the housing estate, he organizes a gang of young boys to help him steal a scooter. But since there are no real criminals in the group, the excursion fails.
Going to the police is a dead end. Also, the owner of the pizzeria is the owner of the motorcycle, as well as the owner of the Rider. So no scooter, no job, no money, no housing, and because the heartless crook has no insurance on the vehicle, the triply exploited worker would have to somehow pull some money from his own skin for the moped. It’s a ruthless London.
The camera in The bike thief remains focused on the grim geography of working-class life, its narrow confines and regimented rhythms. Human relationships are dominated by the daily struggle to survive, which punishes the most vulnerable and strains the nervous system. The film creates an unusually intimate relationship between the viewer and the helmeted “Everyman”. Neither he nor his family remain abstractions. They live and breathe and evoke deep personalized sympathy.
In an interview, lead actor Secăreanu mentions that “many of my friends in Romania know a lot about this situation. Two million people now live outside the country. Many Romanian immigrants have college education, teachers, but work in jobs such as delivery people, cleaners, construction workers and truck drivers, they only do this for the good of their children.
Director Chambers notes that London has a multicultural population and adds, speaking of the social situation in the city in general: “I’m obsessed with the transition that you can go from one area [housing project] right in a gentrified area. With COVID, we are more dependent on delivery people. People need to be more aware and sensitive to them.
The film is exceptional in that it is an example where the updated version is neither an insult nor a parody of the original. It conveys some of the same social sentiment and anger as the film De Sica.
Based on a story by Cesare Zavattini, De Sica’s Bike thieves opens with a government agent calling the name of unemployed Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) as a desperate crowd of Romans waits for a chance to work. Antonio is offered a job of sticking posters on the walls. It’s a good job with child benefits, but you definitely need someone with a bike.
In fact, Antonio had to pawn his bike. Now his wife Maria (Lianella Carell) will pawn their leaves to get the vehicle back. The relief doesn’t last long, because the bike is stolen on Antonio’s first day at work! Much of the film is taken up with Antonio’s tension-filled, needle-in-the-haystack quest, along with his devoted young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola), to regain his stolen property, believed to be his salvation, in the middle of Rome. streets.
They start at Porta Portese Market, where stolen bike parts end up on the black market. In these scenes, the pressure on Antonio begins to become unbearable. De Sica also condemns the Catholic Church in passing, with its luxurious ornaments, because it throws a few crumbs at the poor.
Father and son eventually find the thief and chase him to a brothel, where hostile neighbors protect the culprit, another penniless (and an epileptic). As in Chambers’ film, the police are useless. Physically and mentally exhausted, Antonio tries in vain to steal a bicycle. Now a dazed sight of sweat and rags Antonio, with a traumatized Bruno by his side, elicits sympathy from the bike owner. The last sequence of the film is one of the most heartbreaking in cinema.
The black-and-white cinematography is both lyrical and harrowing, capturing the bleeding wounds of ruined post-war Italy. Non-professionals play with a unity of purpose, their characters’ experiences directly associated with their own.
One critic summed up the film’s concerns well: “What appears to be a series of fortuitous episodes is in fact a carefully orchestrated tour through the various social hells of urban Italy at the time. And hidden under the guise of life lived is, in fact, one of the dominant themes of post-war Italian films: the kind of acts to which ordinary people are driven by the circumstances of war and its consequences. consequences. (Ted Perry, Cinema: a critical dictionary )
“The kind of acts that ordinary people are driven to.” So it was then, so it is now.