“Maybe we’ll do a remake of this,” says The Player’s Armani-clad studio exec to the screenwriter he thinks is blackmailing him. They’re arguing about The Bicycle Thief. “We’d keep it pure.” Doubts arise, and further negotiations are sharply curtailed—by murder. That’s what this movie has become: Once a simple fable of a boy, his dad and their stolen mode of transport, it’s now a symbol of unreachable integrity and also a kind of smoke screen. (The next day, the Hollywood shark impresses a flirty assistant with his good taste in movies; he doesn’t mention the altercation.)
So, returning to Italy’s neorealist triumph with clearer eyes, let’s see the film for what it is: the kind of movie that would impress a cynical young idealist. It’s a title you simply must watch, not necessarily for the truths it packs but rather for the bombed-out buildings of postwar Italy, peripheral details that director Vittorio De Sica insisted on. Over the past 50 years, the movie has come to represent an alternative to artifice, though that’s obviously not the case. Orchestral strings stir the heart as the child takes his father’s hand, becoming the adult; it’s one of cinema’s most carefully constructed wallops.