Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

I dislike business 'rebranding'.

There was a time when the local independent arthouse cinema - The Richmond Filmhouse - had regularly posted me a simple enough leaflet detailing what movie they would be screening when over the next few months. Which was great, because Herschel and I used to enjoy going to the Sunday afternoon double-bills of out-of-season flicks. (Except for the Jacques Tati one, which we both spent both going "eurgh")

Recently however they got taken over and had their name changed to The Curzon Richmond in line with all the other Curzon cinemas in London. So now I have to wade through a glossy 68-page booklet telling me about all the arty films that are on all over the capital, and figure-out which are the few actually showing at the venue where I picked it up from. A marketing strategy which is defeated by the advertising of those Sunday-afternoon double-bills... on an A5 photocopy inserted in the front.

Anyhew, seeing that New Year's Day would feature a double-bill of both Che: Part One and Che: Part Two, I gave Herschel a call to see if he was up for seeing these two movies with me.

He wasn't. I can't blame him for that – Ernesto Che Guevara is my thing really, or has been since I saw The Motorcycle Diaries and read his book.

However later on the same day another film was to be screened, so I followed-up by offering the alternative "I don't suppose you're interested in seeing Bicycle Thieves instead?"

At this, Herschel spluttered and choked on his chocolate cigarette. (I know how this sounds because it happens so often, sadly)

"THE Bicycle Thieves???" he gargleezed. (somewhere between a gargle and a wheeze) "That's only the GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE!"

I was a bit offended at that. "I thought we both agreed that the greatest movie ever made was Josie And The Pussycats. You remember – it was the same day we both enlisted."

At this, Herschel began furiously back-pedalling (something he does a lot for a living) claiming that Josie had in fact always been merely the second greatest movie ever made, and that The Bicycle Thieves was the first greatest, and had in fact always been so.

"What's it about?" I asked.

"I don't know, I've never seen it."

So, flexing his improved literacy skills, he looked it up on the IMDB, which, as usual, contained next to no information whatsoever. Then he tried spelling bicycle with just the one y, found it and discovered that, as usual, the IMDB contained next to no information whatsoever. The Bicycle Thieves, he proudly boasted to me, had been made in 1997, and was directed by someone who had actually gone on to direct episodes of Holby City. I was so not impressed.

Wikipedia, Hoyles, the Filmhousesorry the Curzon's own website, and eventually we discovered that, contrary to the flyer in my hand, the film was in fact called The Bicycle Thief. Y'see, Ladri di biciclette is a Spanish film, made in Italian, and has had its title translated into English in both the singular and the plural since its first release back in 1949.

So this evening we snuck back into the darkened theatre from which Herschel had been banned following the Jacques Tati incident, and sat down as quietly as we could without setting-off any of his horns.

The film began, and I was immediately disappointed. This was not a film. This was a digital projector with perfectly sharp and crisp subtitles superimposed over ancient black-and-white moving-images. I could excuse that, but not how out-of-sinc the entire production was. Literally – we're talking almost a second!


Anyway, the director of this film entitled Ladri di biciclette/The Bicycle Thieves/Thief/Bycycle Theifs/whatever certainly knew what he was doing.

Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), his wife and his kids are seriously poverty stricken after WW2, and have been forced to sell everything just to stay alive. Everything including the beloved family bike. So when an actual paying job comes up that requires Antonio to have his own bicycle, he and his wife have to pawn their own bedsheets to be able to buy the two-wheeler back.

"Heh-heh-heh!" chuckled Herschel under his breath, narrating his own director's commentary to himself. "My chimp Mr Giggles makes more money than these losers - AND he has his OWN unicycle!!"

For me, the bleakness of Antonio's situation, combined with the inevitability of the film's title, combined to make these opening sequences thoroughly uncomfortable. In fact, Antonio spends maybe the first half an hour almost – but not quite – having his bike stolen. In fact, the ambiguity of the film's title in English had me desperate to learn whether it would ultimately get pinched by one villain or several.

Again I was interrupted by Herschel coughing into his popcorn, as Antonio goes to work and actually takes the gagging-to-be-nicked bike inside the building with him. "Now that's comedy!" he hissed at me with the earnestness of the Daily Mail.

Then, entirely unexpectedly, no I'm not going to say what you think I'm going to, no really I'm not, poor Antonio's bicycle gets stolen.

Much of the rest of the movie then charts his descent into despair as his hopes of tracking down the miscreants are repeatedly raised only to be dashed again.

The real soul of the story is in his young son Bruno, (Enzo Staiola) whose welfare is the thing that Antonio is really striving to protect. When dad eventually gives up and blows the last of their money on a meal for the two of them, knowing what financial suicide he's commiting, you can't help but understand where such rashness is coming from.

And Staiola's acting as Bruno is outstanding. This kid wells-up and cries with 100% conviction, and it's no wonder that he gets so much screen-time.

By the end of the film, I was feeling as miserable as a fox with its neck jammed in a catflap. Antonio's family had lost everything, but worst of all, was the slow death of his hope, ultimately followed by the corruption of his morality. And all witnessed by his sobbing, disillusioned son. My stomach was in my mouth.

To my right, I became aware of another gentle sobbing, and I realised that Herschel was quietly crying. Not from sympathy though, oh no, his klown-paint was getting smeared-off by his hyperventilating hysterics.

"Look at that bozo! Now he's getting thrown out of the church, ha ha, and now he's getting attacked by those people, (wheeeeze) and now he's lost his kid in the river – HA!"

Well, they threw us out again...

(Comedy or classic? Trailer here, DVD available here)

Labels: ,

0 comment(s):

Post a Comment

<< Back to Steve's home page

** Click here for preceding post(s) **

** Click here for following post(s) **