We Weren’t Just Bicycle Thieves: Neorealism Movie Review – A Pleasant “Bicycle” Tour into Neorealism

Narrator Carlo Lizzani showing the tools of his trade

(LA, CA) December, 2015 – Regardless of the medium, art always undergoes periods of significant “movements” or “transitions” that help in its overall creative development. This is applicable to painting, sculpture, music, writing and especially film. There have been many cinematic movements that have played an important part in its influence and growth: the French New Wave, German Expressionism, Remodernist Cinema and especially Hollywood’s Golden Age. But from the early 1940s to the early 1950s, there was one cinematic style which revolutionized the film world: Italian Neorealism. In his documentary, “We Weren’t Just Bicycle Thieves: Neorealism,” director Gianni Bozzacchi deftly explores how this film movement played an important role in the ever-evolving art of cinema.

Narrator Carlo Lizzani and director Gianni Bozzacchi


In the movie’s opening, Italian screenwriter and director Carlo Lizzani walks though empty cobblestone streets until he enters his home and especially his spacious study, where copious amounts of books and framed movie posters greet him and the viewer with their vivid, colorful designs. It is in this cozy study that Lizzani serves as the documentary’s narrator and virtual tour guide into Italian Neorealism, where talented cinematic artists created works that break the normal boundaries of narrative storytelling. They did this by using avant-garde styles in metaphoric symbolism and imagery, as well as exploring and exposing the evils of Italian fascism enforced by dictator Benito Mussolini. Thepioneers of Italian neorealism that are illustrated in this documentary include Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio DeSica and Luchino Visconti, among many others.

Vintage movie poster of De Sica's "The Bicycle Thief"


Much kudos goes to director Bozzacchi for the tight pacing and the 75-minute duration of his work, keeping the viewer’s attention without any signs of drag or going off tangent. His creative use of Lizzani’s study, specifically the front window and the computer flat screens, to show examples of Neorealism films is a nice touch when it comes to educating the viewer about this fascinating time period. He even includes clips from classics such as Rossellini’s “Rome, Open City” (1945) and “Paisa” (1946), Giuseppe DeSantis’s “Riso Amaro” (1949), Luchino Visconti’s “Ossessione” (1943), and Vittorio DeSica’s “Sciascia” (1946) and especially “The Bicycle Thief” (1948), which inspired the documentary’s title. Other nice additions include interviews with Oscar winner Martin Scorsese, writer Umberco Eco, and actors Franco Interlenghi and Enzo Staiola (who portrayed the thief’s son in “The Bicycle Thief”). The film’s overall content regarding this time period is extremely rich and if this work had any flaws, it would have been more preferable to use yellow subtitles rather than white, which were getting “swallowed” during some of the sample movie clips.

Narrator and director hang out of the study window


Best of all, Bozzacchi focuses only on the artistic and creative aspects about this film era without committing a specific major error that many documentarians have made when it comes to Italian Neorealism: the glorification of communism. Much too often, especially with the 2011 miniseries “The Story of Film: An Odyssey,” program producers and documentarians praise this ideology as the sole driving force of neorealism without indicating that communism is just as evil as fascism because of their mutual philosophical dogma regarding 1) worshipping The State as their god and 2) the destruction of individual freedoms. By omitting this essential fact about communism (whose foundation is totalitarianism), these documentaries become less about filmmaking and more like an agenda-laced polemic. Director Bozzacchi and narrator Lizzani avoid that trap by maintaining their focus on the craft of filmmaking, making We Weren’t Just Bicycle Thieves: Neorealism” a fine documentary for film lovers of all types.

A scene from DeSica's "Sciascia"


Peter A. Balaskas is a fiction writer, copyeditor, journalist and voice over artist.


We Weren’t Just Bicycle Thieves: Neorealism was produced by Bruno Benetti and Triworld Cinema. It opened in theatres in October in New York at the IFC Center and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall.

Photos provided by Triworld Cinema

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