‘We Weren’t Just Bicycle Thieves: The Neorealism’: Film Review

Gianni Bozzacchi’s documentary delivers an introductory primer to the highly influential Italian film movement.

Too superficial to qualify as scholarship and too esoteric to satisfy the casual filmgoer, Gianni Bozzacchi‘s documentary about the Italian neorealist film movement is a frustrating hybrid. Nonetheless, We Weren’t Just Bicycle Thieves: The Neorealism has a certain charm, largely due to its elderly onscreen host and co-writer, Carlo Lizzani, who died shortly after the film was shot. Besides his ingratiating manner, Lizzani displays a knowledge born of experience; as an assistant director, writer, actor and editor, he worked with many of the movement’s key figures, and won an Oscar nomination for his screenplay of Bitter Rice.

Structured as a casual onscreen lecture conducted by Lizzani in his apartment with his dog by his side, the film delivers a capsule history of neorealism, which one commentator compares to Renaissance art. It lasted little more than a decade, from the war-torn ‘40s to the early ‘50s, but had an enormous impact on film culture.

The Bottom Line

<p>The cinematic equivalent of Italian <span data-scayt_word=”Neorealism” data-scaytid=”48″>Neorealism</span>: 101.</p>

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The “real flag” of neorealism, according to the film, was Visconti’s 1943 crime drama Ossessione, although, as the title indicates, De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves is perhaps its most famous exemplar. Clips from these and many other classics are shown, including Umberto D., Shoeshine, Open City and Germany: Year Zero. Along the way there are interviews with such figures as the Taviani brothers, novelist Umberto Eco, Bernardo Bertolucci and Martin Scorsese, all testifying to the enduring influence neorealism had on their work. There’s even a discussion with Enzo Staiola (if the name’s not familiar, he played the young boy in Bicycle Thieves).

An outgrowth of the Second World War, neorealism eventually died out. Although many of its films garnered critical acclaim and international success, they often underperformed at the Italian box office. Such films as Fellini’s La Strada and Visconti’s Senso, both in 1954, indicated a rupture with the genre, serving up poetic realism and historical melodrama, respectively.

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A bit too rambling and diffuse to be fully educational, We Weren’t Just Bicycle Thieves nonetheless serves as a valuable introduction to its subject. And if nothing else, it has the beneficial effect of making the viewer want to watch the classic films under discussion, either again or for the first time.

Production: Triworld Cinema, Triworld Italia
Director/producer: Gianni Bozzacchi
Screenwriters: Gianni Bozzacchi, Carlo Lizzani
Executive producer: Bruno Benetti
Director of photography: Fabio Olmi
Editor: Roberto Silvi
Composer: Pino Donaggio

Not rated, 77 minutes