Heralded as the greatest film ever made on release, winning an Oscar in 1949 and topping the Sight & Sound film poll in 1952, De Sica’s seminal work of Italian neorealism has had an impact on cinema worldwide from release to the present day, with filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray and Ken Loach claiming the film as a direct influence on their own.
Bicycle Thieves tells the story of Antonio, a long unemployed man who finally finds employment putting up cinema posters for which he needs a bicycle. His wife pawns all the family linen to redeem the already pawned bicycle and for Antonio salvation has come, until the bicycle is stolen. Antonio and his son take to the streets in a desperate search to find the bicycle. Bicycle Thieves is as much about the position of Italians in post-War, post-Fascist Italy as the relationship between father and son, told through the labyrinth of the cinematic city with De Sica’s arresting visual poetry. Defining neorealism, a small period of filmmaking that focused on simple, humanist stories, Bicycle Thieves was one of the most captivating and moving.
Arrow Academy presents Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.
Arrow Films new Blu-ray edition of Vittorio de Sica’s classic Bicycle Thieves presents the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz transfer. I also need to stress that this disc is Region B encoded and is not an all-region disc, so you will need a player capable of playing back region B discs. In the past I’ve only reviewed discs that will play on region A players but am testing the waters with this one.
Now getting to the actual transfer I will say it is open to improvement but I was still fairly happy with it. Film grain is present but isn’t overly intrusive and it looks natural for the most part but I thought it could look a bit like noise in some of the blacker areas of the screen. Shimmering effects do occur in patterns in suits here and there and I did notice edge enhancement unfortunately in a few places. Blacks and whites look fairly good and gray levels are decent but I felt the image could look a little blown out at times, which in turn causes the loss of some of the details.
The image is generally sharp and there’s some great definition at times but I think the source materials hold it back a bit. It can get a little fuzzy and out of focus in areas on the screen, but when it’s sharp it looks great. There’s damage still present, primarily fairly fine vertical scratches, and there’s a vertical line that appears occasionally that looks to slightly distort the image where it crosses through. There’s also a few places where frames are obviously missing and the film jumps, but they’re few and far between.
In general I was pleased enough with it but it is open to quite a bit of improvement, the softness of the image in places and the edge-enhancement being the bigger problems.
(Again, this disc is a Region B release and will not play on Region A players.)
Unfortunately the lossless PCM track can use more work. It’s incredibly tinny, coming off flat and absolutely lifeless. There’s still some noticeable damage and noise in the background and dialogue comes off edgy. The film’s score is also unfortunately a bit of a mess, presenting a fair level of distortion and harshness. In all it’s the most disappointing aspect of this edition.
Arrow Films includes a few supplements starting with an audio commentary by Italian Cinema expert Robert Gordon. I was mildly disappointed with it despite some decent moments. Gordon covers the production well enough and also offers his own opinions and examination of the film, focusing primarily on the relationship between the father and son. He also points out some neat little trivia moments here and there (like a young Sergio Leone) but he disappointingly spends most of the track just reiterating the action that’s occurring onscreen and it can take up most of the track. It may be worth listening to but I wouldn’t call it necessary.
Following this are a couple of documentaries. First is a 56-minute piece on Cesare Zavattini, which also appears on the Criterion DVD edition, about the film’s screenwriter. Through interviews, clips, and some archival material it covers his early life, career, and his involvement in the Italian neorealist movement, focusing quite a bit on his work with Di Sica including the films Umberto D. and Bicycle Thieves. An interesting piece, and possibly the best feature on here.
The next documentary is a little odd but somewhat effective. Timeless Cinema is a 57-minute piece about director Vittorio Di Sica done in an unusual way: it goes through his life and films using interview and other archival footage of Di Sica, along with clips from his films. It’s format can be a little aggravating as it jumps all over the place but it offers a fairly effective examination of the director/actor’s career.
The disc then concludes with a theatrical trailer for the film.
The included booklet contains some wonderful material. There’s an excellent essay on the film by Michael Brooke followed by a reprinting of an article by Cesare Zavattini entitled “Some Ideas on Cinema”. There’s also a reprinting of a note on the film by De Sica and then a collection of review blurbs for the film.
Arrow also offers their unique packaging which allows you to basically choose the poster art for the film you’d like to display.
The material’s decent though of everything I’d say the one feature on the disc most worth watching is the documentary on Zavattini, plus the material on the Criterion DVD edition felt a little more satisfying.
An okay edition but it’s open to improvement in all areas. The transfer in both the audio and video departments can be greatly improved upon, and the supplements can leave a little to be desired.