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Bicycle Theives: Bruno's spatial relation to his father as an emotional barometer in the downpour scene

by Michael Frierson

André Bazin finds the character of the boy pivotal in Bicycle Theives:

"The idea of the boy is a stroke of genius… It is the child who gives to the workman’s adventure its ethical dimension and fashions, from an individual moral standpoint, drama that might well have been only social… the child provides the dramatic reserve which, as the occasion arises, serves as a counterpoint, as an accompaniment, or moves on the contrary into the foreground of the melodic structure."

The position of Bruno as they walk is telling, a barometer of the state of their feelings towards each other. At one point, they are caught in a downpour and Bruno sticks close as they search helter-skelter through the chaos of the market place that is folding up to seek shelter. Ultimately they give up and take cover from the rain, Bruno falling on the curb as they race for cover. As Bruno wipes the grime off of himself furiously, his father is oblivious, asking, “What happened?” Bruno gestures to the curb and answers with Italian indigence: “I fell!”

The father hands him his handkerchief to wipe off with and touches the boy’s head tenderly. Seven Austrian clerics then rush for cover from the rain, surrounding the father, prattling in German and pinning Bruno against the wall. Bruno is in no mood to be respectful, and he quickly shoves the clergyman out of his space.

As the rain shower ends, the scene ends and the clerics go on about their business. Bazin writes that these “events are not necessarily signs of something, of a truth of which we are to be convinced; they all carry their own weight, their complete uniqueness, that ambiguity which characterizes any fact. So if you do not have the eyes to see, you’re free to attribute what happens to bad luck or chance.”

But Bazin, on the other hand, sees correspondences, a kind of meaning that grows naturally, a posteriori from the downpour scene, because it is part and parcel of a society that is the unhelpful in the face of the man’s personal tragedy, the uncaring world that he has met at every turn: “On that score, the most successful scene is that in the storm under the porch when a flock of Austrian seminarians crowd around the worker and his son. We have no valid reason to blame them for chattering so much and still less for talking German. But it would be difficult to create a more objectively anti-clerical scene.”

Bicycle Theives: Bruno's spatial relation to his father as an emotional barometer in the downpour scene

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from Bicycle Theives (1948)
Creator: Vittorio De Sica
Distributor: Criterion Collection
Posted by Michael Frierson
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