Welcome to another installment of Movies to Show My Son. This is the blog series were I discuss movies I can’t way to show my son in the future. I’ll be covering my own personal experience with the movie, movie lessons and life lessons I hope he will learn, and lastly my concerns about showing said film. This week’s film is The Bicycle Thief.
When I was growing up I never watched foreign films. It is not that I avoided them it is more so that I did not realize they existed. At that time I assumed everything was made at Hollywood and by Disney. As I grew older and wiser I realized that was not the case but still tended to stay away. The first time I ended up seeing a foreign film was around 2002 when I saw Yimou Zhang’s Hero in theaters. At the time I did not fully realize it would all be in subtitles but the sheer beauty of the production design and the breathtaking choreography of the battle sequences minimized that problem. Quickly I became immersed and the barrier of subtitles was broken.
Fast forward nearly a decade later I am starting to get into movie podcasts for the first time. One of the first was The Digigods hosted by LA Film critics Wade Major and Mark Kieser. A lot of cinephiles talk about Filmspotting as the podcast that opened a new world of movies to them. I too enjoy that podcast but it was Mark and especially Wade’s love of foreign films that opened my movie appetite. I do not remember the specifics but they began to speak of this movie called The Bicycle Thief and how much it was a must see. It was a common occurrence that after listening to their podcast my movies to watch list would grow exponentially. Many of those movies are still on there today unfortunately. There was something about the way they spoke of The Bicycle Thief that made it more than the typical recommendation. Their admiration for it made me want to seek it out immediately and that is exactly what I did.
Lucky for me it was streaming someplace at the time. If memory serves me this was when the Criterion films were still on Netflix. Now you’re lucky to find five movies made prior to 1980. Watching it I was transfixed on the story that was in front of me. I never went to film school nor at that point have I read or watch much on the art of film making, but even with my naivety I could tell The Bicycle Thief was unlike other classic and foreign films I watched before. There was deep sense of realism that was in stark contrast to much of the classic Hollywood glamour I was used to seeing.
I had watched movies for nearly all my life but nothing quite like this before. Not that it was drastically different like it was filmed in reverse with talkative mimes portraying each human emotion. No, it was the subtle nature of its style. How little moments were treated with so much importance. For example how a scene of a father and son eating dinner could be one of the most touching moments ever displayed on screen. Seeing that films could be made in this manner was like discovering there was another room in my house I was never aware of before. All I wanted to do was take some time to explore.
Age to Show:
With this being a foreign film he will need to be at an age when reading comprehension is easy for him. Yes there is the dubbed option, but watching the dubbed version of a serious foreign film should be criminal. It is fine if you are watching a cheesy martial arts movie from the 70’s, but anything of merit should be watched as originally intended.
So my thought is around ages 12 – 15. The life lessons that I will get to focus a great deal on the importance of empathy. Kids younger than 12 are automatically tend to be very empathetic. A big reason why when you ask kids in grades K-3, “What do you want to be when they grow up?” the answers tend to be jobs in the service industry like firemen, cops, or teachers…or a professional athlete. That dream has no age limits. I am just now coming to grips with the fact that I’ll never achieve my goal to play in the NFL. It is hard giving up on a dream.
When you enter the preteen and teenage years that empathy reflex dissipates and is replaced with the reflex to over dramatize the smallest issues. Speaking as a former middle school teacher I can tell you kids that age are emotional mine fields waiting to explode. The amount of drama that can take place during a thirty minute lunch is insane. It’s like they are watching the series finale of This Is Us on repeat.
So as a parent I see it as my responsibility to provide perspective on the problems my son will be facing that age. A movie like The Bicycle Thief is a good reminder of what is really important in life. Even as an adult it is something I need to remind myself of as well.
The Bicycle Thief is looked at as one of the greatest movies of all time. Film makers and critics alike have praised director Vittorio De Sica for his groundbreaking achievement in filmmaking and his uncanny ability to capture life in post-War Italy. Considering that there are plenty of film lessons to take away from this film no matter what your age or experience.
For me I am hoping my son learns a very important lesson. Great film making is a universal skill. I hope subtitles will not seem like a barrier to enjoyment, and he will see that after a few minutes you will forget that they are even there.
Outside of that The Bicycle Thief shows how you can great a powerful performance from non-actors. As a kid I never really knew what a director did. Yes I knew names like Spielberg but what their job entailed I did not know. With The Bicycle Thief my son can see the first responsibility of a great director is to get great performances from his or her actors no matter who they might be. With this film director Vittorio De Sic took two people who never acted before and used their rawness to his advantage. His style and directing are the story of this film even if you never see his face on screen.
On a very basic level a lesson can be learned just in the title. It is very possible to steal something and get away with it. That does not mean there are not consequences. This puts those consequences right in front of you. We have all those moments when we have been tempted to steal, especially when you are a kid and you want so much but have no money to pay for it. Yes there is that concern that you would get caught. A movie like this though can compound that concern so you are not only thinking about how your actions will affect you but also how they will affect others.
Roger Ebert once described movies as machines that generate empathy, and if that is the case The Bicycle Thief is the Terminator of empathy. I hope my son sees with this the danger of judging others when you do not know their entire story. What you may see as just a bicycle someone else sees as their livelihood.
There is that classic scenario where people are asked if it is okay for a father to steal food for their starving family. The Bicycle Thief embodies that quandary in full effect. You can take the experience of watching this film and use it as a companion to that philosophical discussion. Would you do something you know is wrong for a reason you know is right? After watching The Bicycle Thief that debate becomes much less abstract.
I am going to show my son a foreign film, from the 1950’s, about a guy walking around a city looking for a bike. What is there not to be concerned about? Outside of the obvious my other thought is if context will be needed to truly appreciate what this film is doing. Part of that context would be knowing how this film and its movement was born from the politics of the time and the events of World War II.
In addition I mentioned a big part of what drew me to the film was how different it was to the other classic films. As this series will show I do plan on showing my son other classic films but at the age of 12 or 15 would he notice those differences? I am not sure I would have at that age. Old things just seemed old to me. Hopefully by building up a quality movie experience prior to watching this he will appreciate it the same way I did.