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Bicycle Thieves Review


Essential
Few films have had their titles put under such intense scrutiny as Vittorio De Sica's 1948 neo-realist masterpiece. Originally, the translated title was simply The Bicycle Thief, referencing the perpetrator of the film's titular crime. However, later digging and arbitration led to it being called The Bicycle Thieves or just Bicycle Thieves, which references more to the fact the social realism, poverty and desperation that most of the men in Italy felt at the time. Ostensibly, it meant that we are all bicycle thieves, and we are all capable of doing heartless things to maintain one's own way of life.

On a street, Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) stands with a crowd of unemployed family men, all hands-up and crying for a job. The only job available requires a bicycle and though he doesn't have one, Ricci quickly raises his hand announcing that he has such a bike. By selling the sheets off his bed, Ricci and his son Bruno (Gino Saltamerenda) are able to procure a hocked bike from a local pawn shop. And so, the man and his boy go off on their job: Pasting large posters to walls around the city. Ricci is not far into his workday when the bicycle, out of his eyeline, is stolen. Ricci and Bruno spend the rest of the day trying to catch the thief and win back employment and a better life.

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The Children Are Watching Us Review


Extraordinary
In order to achieve true cinephile status you must spend some time watching the classic Italian World War II-era neorealist films of the great Vittorio De Sica. If you've already seen his devastating masterpiece The Bicycle Thief, then move on to one of one of his lesser known but equally excellent dramas, The Children Are Watching Us.

The title alone is a serious guilt trip, De Sica's condemnation of immoral adult behavior that ends up damaging the innocent children who inevitably suffer the consequences of Mom and Dad's bad decisions. In this case, the adorable victim is five-year-old Prico (Luciano De Ambrosis), a wide-eyed only child who revels in the adoration of his parents (Emilio Cigoli and Isa Pola) and his nanny. Though it's wartime, Prico is insulated from the world outside until one day, on a walk in the park, his mother slips behind a tree and chats with a strange man (Adriano Rimoldi).

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Umberto D. Review


Good
Hankering to feel like crap? You need to spend more time with the Italian cinema of the 1950s, and Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D. would be a great place to start.

Shot four years after his famous The Bicycle Thief, De Sica returns to his roots with a vengeance. No longer content to put a lower-class laborer into an even deeper hellhole, this time the melodramatic director gives us a dying old man, his dog, and a pregnant maid, none of whom are destined for futures we'd describe as happy. Old man Umberto (played by non-actor Carlo Battisti; none of the cast in the film are pros) is so poor is landlady rents out his room during the day to prostitutes to help with the bills. (It's just as well; he's looking for someone to take his puppy so he can off himself.)

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Terminal Station Review


OK
Here's a film with a backstory richer than the finished project.

Shot in 1953 in Italy, Vittorio De Sica crafted a film writ small about two unlikely lovers: a married American woman (Jennifer Jones) with a child and an Italian local (Montgomery Clift, badly miscast). What we see in this film, which takes place nearly in real time, is not their love affair, but rather her attempt to depart for her trip home, stuck in the titular station with a crisis of conscience: stick around with the hot flame or return to the family in the U.S. Strangely, the drama doesn't really come from the woman's indecision over whether to leave, rather the pair find themselves arrested when they take refuge in a train car. I guess the Italian police don't take kindly to such behavior -- the cop, after much haranguing, even decrees that they will have to stand trial for their crimes!

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Two Women Review


Excellent
The two women of the title are Cesira (Sophia Loren, who won an Oscar for her performance here) and her pre-teen daugher Rosetta (Eleonora Brown). What makes their story worth watching is that they are struggling to survive in Italy at the conclusion of World War II -- facing hunger, rogue Nazis, and an uncertain future. Loren's performance is completely stunning, and though the film has a very slow, Fellini-style start, its last hour is dazzling and more than makes up for the flaws. Note that DVD quality of this film is variable -- the one I saw was a very lousy VHS dub and did little justice to the film's cinematography.

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