The Ageless Solitude

Themes of Isolation and Poverty
in De Sica’s Neorealism Trilogy


Reflective Statement

Its true meaning lies in not betraying the essence of things, in allowing them first to exist for their own sakes, freely; it is to love them in their single individual reality. ‘My … little sister reality,’ says De Sica, and she circles about him like the birds around St. Francis. Others put her in a cage or teach her to talk, but De Sica talks to her and it is the true language of reality, that we hear, the word that cannot be denied, that only love can express. (Bazin 14)

    Though film critic André Bazin was speaking of Ladri di Biciclette in particular, his poetic words embody his attitude toward, and great admiration of, De Sica’s Italian neorealism films and make a broader reflection on them.

    Few films have had more impact on me than Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D., as well as a third film, Shoeshine, produced before the other two. I understand why Bazin described De Sica and Zavattini’s films as he did. I see similarities, as well as what made the films so powerful. The film itself is grainy and black-and-white; the stories take an uncomplicated, ordinary focus on the simplicities of daily routines and the grim challenges of poverty.

    Shoeshine is about two shoeshine boys whose friendship, freedom and youthful innocence is crushed by adult injustice and an uncaring legal system. Bicycle Thieves depicts the relationship between father and son, as well as between man and society, seen in the search for a stolen bicycle, which the father needs to do his job. Umberto D., like Bicycle Thieves, shows a man who serves a society that does not serve him — in this case, an older man, faced with both eviction from his apartment and the indifference of a society that cares not for the aged. Each film illustrates a sort of repetition of problems and sadness, manifest in many ways. The poignancy is the result not of manipulative melodrama but of simple filmmaking that illustrates the unextraordinary person and his hardships.

Identification of Subject

    The subject is Vittorio De Sica and Cesare Zavattini’s three neorealism films. Specifically, Sciuscià, Ladri di Biciclette and Umberto D., in relation to Italian neorealism and in both an historical socioeconomic context and in a textual / aesthetic analysis.

Review of the Literature

    Four primary texts provided some background information: Bondanella’s “Italian Cinema,” Robert Sklar’s “Film: An International History of the Medium,” Marcia Landy’s “Italian Film” and Bazin’s “What Is Cinema? Volume II.”

-       Bondanella looks at photographic techniques in the three films, considers some of the imagery used in each, and connects the three films’ characters based on their similar plights.

-       Sklar discusses the post-WWII setting and context of the films, relating the topic to the actual social reality of the times and the films’ social critique.

-       Landy considers the setting and “focal point” of each film, family dynamics, and characters’ relationships.

-       Bazin looks at such topics as the development of characters, the “disappearance of the story” and both the social and psychological aspects of the characters’ circumstances and behavior.

Guiding Questions / Thesis Statement

First, I devised seven questions to guide the research. The questions are as follows:

  1. What are some of the elements and tenets of neorealism to which the three films conform?
  2. How might the films be seen in relation to the time period in which they are set — that is, how are the problems facing post-WWII Italy, including the role of the government, figured into and represented in the stories and their characters?
  3. How has the nature of the relationship between the two primary characters (of each film) changed by the end of the story?
  4. How can we use/attempt to interpret some of the aesthetic elements of the films to further our understanding of the characters and their plight?
  5. Since the camera often pays attention to certain objects, locations and architectural structures (the white horse, the pillars at the Pantheon, the dog, the bike, and so on), what particular theme or significance can these represent or symbolize?
  6. How do the three films’ similar portrayals of social indifference — to the characters when they are vulnerable or in need — help to augment the feeling of solitude experienced by the main character(s)?
  7. Taken together, the three films form a chronological sequence — each shows the difficulties of individuals at a different stage in life. What overarching problems and messages are signified by the sequential, film-to-film progression of different points in one’s life?

Next, the answers to the questions form the thesis statement:

  1. Long, slow-paced, scenes; avoidance of artifice in the filmmaking and shooting; a simple story; portrayal of everyday people, in actual settings; social themes; and encouraging and promoting the situations’ natural development rather than arbitrarily dictating and controlling what takes place.
  2. The films addressed the reality of life in post-war Italy, and the frustration with the many injustices. Characters face the same problems and issues that really were threatening Italy.
  3. By the story’s end, the relationship change is one of either degradation or equalization; for example, in Sciuscià, Giuseppe and Pasquale’s friendship is poisoned and degenerates into hatred.
  4. Aesthetics help our understanding, including in such ways as: close-ups, to give the illusion that we personally know the characters; different perspectives, such as top-down perspective, used to illustrate solidarity; eye-level shots and slow transitions help us feel like we’re seeing the character’s world through our own eyes without our engagement to it interrupted; and long “nothing-happens” scenes show growing unhappiness of day-to-day life in poverty.
  5. Various objects, locations and pieces of architecture are symbols. The horse in Shoeshine represents freedom and independence; the bicycle becomes the projection of Antonio’s self-respect; Umberto’s dog, Flag, is a willingly assumed burden, one that stands for man’s love for another creature — the last thing he would give up. The streets, old architecture and endless rows of decrepit houses and apartments are further symbols of such themes as repetition and confusion.
  6. In each film, there are many others in a position very similar to the main character’s. When we see large overhead shots of a crowd, or the row of cells, or the endless rows of bicycle parts, these are indications that countless people are experiencing similar struggles. But essentially no one, not even their friends, seems very interested in the main character’s problems, so the feelings of solitude are intensified.
  7. The films show three of the groups that are most vulnerable in society: impoverished children (Shoeshine), families whose wage earner is unemployed (Bicycle Thieves), and the elderly, especially the retired (Umberto D). Taken together once again, the films show that people from every stage of life — young, middle-aged and elderly — faced similar problems. Each group faces sadness, poverty and an isolating society, and the government is an uncaring bureaucracy.


    The guiding questions I asked, and the answer to each, were the driving force behind almost the entirety of the research and analysis. The seventh question was especially significant in that it most directly addressed the primary goal. That goal was essentially to show the three films as being both comparable and interrelated on many different levels, and that ultimately, the three films together constitute a chronological sequence of sorts, a cinematic trilogy. As such, in answering each of the questions, my intention is to be able to provide sufficient evidence and its analysis for each film to show the connection.

    It seemed that a natural starting point for questions was to begin with the relatively uncomplicated and straightforward consideration of what the term neorealism meant to each film. As stated, the films conform to many of neorealism’s tenets. One of these is the inclusion of long, slow-paced, scenes. This can be seen in all three films; for example, in Umberto D., the servant girl awakens, sleepily gets up to grind the coffee, and splashes the water to kill the ants—an unexciting daily routine. Another aspect of neorealism in the films is the avoidance of artifice or affectation in editing, shooting and lighting, achieved in part by the on-location shooting. Artificial lighting is used sparingly and only when the shot demands it. The camera “knows” its primary purpose, which is simply to watch the story and its events unfold.

    Another characteristic of the films is their very simple story, or in some cases, little more than just a sequence of events or a period of time. The ‘de-dramatization’ and simplicity of the story itself is because it is not the focus; if De Sica had wished to focus on the exactness of an intriguing storyline, he would not have just used a tale as simple as the search for a bicycle or the eviction and misery of an aging man. Likewise, the actual characters are everyday, “common” people, and those who play the parts are nonprofessional actors. The use of non-actors in very ordinary roles does logically fit the other tenets of neorealism, including its on-location settings. Lastly, the adherence to the promotion of the natural development of situations, as opposed to arbitrarily manipulating them, is vital. The films are comprised of many scenes that take on an almost ‘documentary-esque’ aura of simplicity. And neorealism knew that in real life, problems are almost never worked out or settled by the deus ex machina, manufactured solutions and happy endings that most other films relied on. De Sica and Zavattini could have chosen to concoct perfectly happy fates for all of their protagonists. The boys could have been written into a conclusion of friendship and freedom riding their horse; Antonio could have found his lost bicycle; Umberto D.’s landlady could have decided against evicting him. But formulaic events and endings are not the answer, neorealism dictates. All of these qualities are not intended to represent the entirety of neorealism or its guiding principles, but for De Sica’s purposes, the ones described are some of the most important examples. Otherwise, to add artifice to any aspect of the films (beyond the basic requirements needed) would be to destroy the films’ very purpose.

    In considering the second of my seven points of focus, I found the inclusion of such a question necessary to help better understand what gave rise to the film movement in Italy and how those historical circumstances were conveyed. Historically, neorealism may be seen at least partly as a response to what were known as “telefono bianco” (white telephone) films of upper-class fantasy, which were commonly promoted in pre-war Fascist Italy. Like the others, the films of De Sica and Zavattini dealt with the poverty and unhappiness of life in post-war Italy, and the frustration with the social and political injustices—essentially, the post-Liberation disappointment with the government, an attitude that was shared by many. Characters are faced with the same post-war ravages and issues that really were threatening Italy. The first film, Shoeshine, makes for a prime example of many of the issues. Even the title itself lends itself to a meaningful understanding; in the impoverished post-war Italy, “sciuscià” was the phonetic (mis)pronunciation of “shoeshine,” called out by many of the orphaned children who basically had no choice but to try to make a living for themselves on the streets. Such was the reality of life for many. The juvenile detention system too is in a sorry and corrupt state. The people who run it take an aloof attitude toward sanitization; prisoners have been in the cells for months and, in some cases, will have no family to return home to; the food provided and infirmary’s services are meager at best and leave much to be desired. But worst of all, perhaps, is the attitude about the inmates themselves: The boys are dehumanized to the point where mistreatment is ignored, the warden sees the prisoners as lowlife criminals and of no value to society, and any suggestions by an assistant of compassion are scoffed at.

    Similar cruelty and dismissal are all that can be expected of the government in the other films. The plight of Bicycle Thieves’ Antonio exacerbated by the police officer, whose nonchalant and disinterested demeanor toward (what he considers) the petty theft of a bike is representative of the government’s apparent indifference. Considering the amount of effort required of both Antonio and Umberto D. to cut through the bureaucratic red tape—for something as simple as filing a report or reclaiming a dog—it is not hard to see the films as serving to point out at least some of the problems facing Italy at the time. Even more to the point, a closer look at the bigger picture in each film shows not only the severity of the problems but the number of people experiencing them. And in Shoeshine, the choice is between willingly living in poverty or engaging in black-market practices to try to escape it. The very fact that the literal translation of the second movie is plural—Bicycle Thieves—can mean no less than the fact that people are reduced to having to steal from one another, and poverty is a cycle. Umberto D., in the same vein, features a retired civil servant who, along with the others, tries to receive his pension and keep his apartment, only to be shoved aside. All of these examples, while by no means a complete discussion of each film’s illustration of the problems faced, are included as a component of the overall analysis for a reason: to give meaningfulness to what the films portray. They don’t claim to know the answers to the problems of the day, but the films are there to take a particular person, a particular incident, a particular struggle—and show the reality of the problems not just on an individual level, but on a larger scale. To ignore the fact that Italy and its government were in turmoil would have been to turn a blind eye.

    The third point of the analysis turns to a more focused attention to the characters in the stories. In the relationship between the two principal characters in each story, the primary change that occurs by the story’s end is one of either degradation or equalization. To begin with, in Sciuscià, Giuseppe and Pasquale’s friendship is poisoned and degenerates into hatred. Near the beginning of the story, the two boys wind up imprisoned. They have memories of riding the horse through the Villa Borghese, and of their former freedom on the streets, where they spoke freely with the soldiers and the other shoeshine boys. These memories become a tragic contrast to what ultimately faces Giuseppe and his friend. What De Sica will emphasize as truly the most tragic is not the physical oppression by the jailers, but rather the subtle, gradual corruption of the youthful innocence and friendship of the two boys. Tricked, deceived and manipulated to the point that they are turned against one another and one believes the other a turncoat, the boys are made to believe that they are no longer friends. It is not until Pasquale has (perhaps accidentally) brought about the death of Giuseppe that the former finally realizes what he has done. Stricken with grief and guilt, and seeing his friend’s now-lifeless body, Pasquale’s awareness of the truth of the situation—including that knowledge of his friend’s innocence—comes too late.

    With Antonio and Bruno, the situation is different than it was for Pasquale and Giuseppe. Antonio and his son undergo a transformation as well, but one of a sort of equalization. To summarize this relationship, throughout the movie, Bruno has seemed to be little more than simply a child who follows his father around the city; the role of the son is not one of outright action but simply of, perhaps, moral witness. We see the father’s actions through the eyes of his son, who, as a child, is dependent on his father, but who will become the one who is depended upon. In the end, when Antonio’s desperation drives him to the point of willingness to commit thievery—an act completely alien to him—he tells his son to leave, to turn away. Caught in the act, Antonio is ashamed, and mostly because his son was a witness to this act. But the ending is not one of any false sentimentality, and to suggest that Bruno’s final act is one of “forgiveness” is to misinterpret what has taken place. As Bazin best put it, the son, who had seen his father as infallible and godlike, has seen the father’s “fall from grace.” But the act of taking his father’s hand at the end of the story changes the relationship to one of love, fault and all, the two become equals. “It is the most solemn gesture that could ever mark the relations between a father and his son,” says Bazin (54). While still father and son, the duo have a new relationship. They are both human, both able to despair over their plight.

    Lastly, the relationship change of Umberto D. is a similar one. The old man and his small dog are more alike than even they may realize; the scenes of the dog pound and the gas chambers, used to euthanize the unclaimed dogs, mirrors Umberto’s situation: He too is like all of the stray dogs that society does not care for and would simply like to rid itself of. The bond between man and dog is so simple it hardly needs to be explained. Of course Flag is a cute, small dog, and of course Umberto’s role is one of master and provider. But that role gradually changes, and as Umberto feels the loss of his dignity, he at one point tries to switch his role with Flag. The dog is given the old man’s hat and made to beg while Umberto stands behind a pillar—but this is no good, either, he decides. He refuses to force his dog into what is so demeaning an act. And by the end of the film, Flag is responsible for Umberto’s final decision to move out of the way of the oncoming train. Umberto has been driven far down, and like the begging scene, the attempted-suicide scene illustrates how much the relationship has changed. At the end of the day, Flag and Umberto are in the same position, and they have only one another. He accepts the fact that his fate and his dog’s—whatever fate that may be—are one and the same.

    The fourth element of analysis is, as with the others, limited by space and time constraints to an incomplete discussion. But at least some of the ways in which aesthetics may lead to a better understanding can be explored. Of significance, for example, is the use of close-ups of characters. These give the illusion that we personally know the characters and helps us get at what they’re thinking, their innermost thoughts. The best example of this is in Bicycle Thieves’ close-ups of Bruno, who watches his father’s actions and feelings so intently. It’s also quite used in Shoeshine, because the faces of Giuseppe and Pasquale convey, more than anyone else in the film, the blend of the so many different feelings experienced.

    Also, the use of various perspectives figures quite prominently into each film without intruding on the scenes’ natural openness and sincerity. Top-down perspective of a crowd, such as is seen in the beginning of Umberto D., illustrates the solidarity a character feels, but at the same time such a shot suggests the individual’s insignificance in the eyes of society and the government. The people in the crowds seem almost like insects, able to be dispersed and done away with as easily as Maria the servant girl scatters the kitchen ants with a splash of water. But such perspectives are infrequent, since the deliberate, repeated use of eye-level shots and slow transitions helps allow us to feel as though we are being allowed to see the characters’ world through our own eyes without having our engagement or connection to it interrupted. As has been previously mentioned, the extended “nothing-happens” scenes of the films are weighted with an ever-growing unhappiness and tedium of day-to-day life in poverty. Scenes are as simple as those of the numerous youth sitting inside the countless cells, Antonio’s seemingly never-ending walk through the city, and Maria’s watching the skylight above while an alley cat walks across it. Each film contains scenes where the camera simply looks around at an empty, darkened hallway or a long, open stretch of road. While these examples hardly do justice to the extent of films’ slow, quiet quality, they at least provide some glimpse into the sort of scenes that show the miserable state of mind that grinds down the characters.

    And aesthetically, the camera is important in many other ways, as well. If De Sica and his crew could have shot the film in color, would they have done so? Likely not. The stark, grainy quality of the black-and-white photography gives the films an air that color could never achieve. And the documentary-style shooting helps to allow the focus to temporarily shift from one area or subject to another; the camera often pans around an open cityscape, watching both the hustle-and-bustle of the crowd as well as some of its individual, diverse members. Other blue-collar workers stop to have a smoke; parents interact with their children; the bicycle-parts vendors try to attract a customer or simply content themselves to rearrange what few items he has to offer. Such a “non-event” may be shown as a quick, parenthetical glimpse, or it may remain the camera’s focus long enough to see a sequence of “miniature” events unfold. But the last aesthetic element that will be addressed here is some other, more important characteristics of the mise-en-scène. The location shooting allows for more freedom and openness of the mise-en-scène, to the point that sometimes even the camera doesn’t appear to know what it’s looking for; for example, in Bicycle Thieves, Antonio exits a streetcar, followed by Bruno, and the two of them wander one direction for a bit and then turn and go a different way. Like an impartial observer, the movement of the camera seems as unsure as the viewer as to where the characters will go next. The focus of the scenes are often framed off-center and asymmetrically. Everything is put into perspective; the aesthetics are connected to, and seem to convey, not just the atmosphere but the current attitude and emotions of the characters. “They confirm the meaning of the action,” says Bazin (65), knowing that most significant to neorealism’s ‘ideology’ is that “the assemblage of the film must never add anything to the existing reality” (66).

    The fifth, and probably most directly related, point is that of symbolism of various objects, structures and locations. Again, an analysis of but a handful of examples will have to suffice, serving not as a complete explanation but of some illustrations of how certain themes can be represented (without breaking the bounds of neorealism). To begin with, consider the horse, Bersaglieri, in Shoeshine. Representative of freedom and independence, or at least that ideal, it changes with the fate of the boys. When the horse gallops off into the haze at the end of the story, those hopes are what is really departing, not just the horse. Its departure relates to Giuseppe’s death, the final stage in the complete ruination of friendship. The jail cells, seen even in the opening titles, give a clue not only to the location of most of the film but to the entrapment that will exist in many ways. In Bicycle Thieves, the most important object is of course the bicycle, a job-related necessity that was the projection of Antonio’s self-respect. The wheels of the bicycle even remind of a very real cycle, that of unemployment and poverty. And the Rita Hayworth poster is certainly of note as a striking comparison of all the shallowness and artificiality of Hollywood, placed amidst the ordinary, completely unglamorous reality that is both post-war Italy and neorealism. And the city itself, which man and boy traverse, is characterized by fragmentation. The endless, mazelike streets, side-streets and unfamiliar territory give the added, compounded sense of confusion that is characteristic of Antonio’s quest. Umberto D. may provide another element of similar symbols, some of which are seen in one or both of the other films. The streets of Rome, the old architecture and the endless rows of decrepit houses and bland apartment buildings suggest such themes as repetition and confusion, and the unique perspectives, such as scenes reflected in mirrors or in the characters’ shadows, further those feelings. The many architectural structures and locations remind of a different, bygone era; ironic is the way in which Umberto and Flag beg at the steps in front of the pillars of the Pantheon, the same columns that once represented and echoed symbols of vitality and solidarity of a flourishing, sturdy Rome. The landlady, her glamorous parties and operatic arias, along with all the decorations of the room, all point to her complete inability to notice (or care about) anyone but herself, whereas Umberto’s room, which is later seen with a large gaping hole knocked in the wall, transforms from a place he can call home into a place where he will no longer stay. The sign on his door, “Parva Domus Sed Apta Mihi,” is Latin for (approximately) “A small home, but enough for me” — perhaps an ironic foreshadowing of what is to come. And the scene at the dog pound is one of the most telling and poignant; as previously stated, all of the people in Umberto’s position are essentially like all of the dogs in the pound, unwanted and simply discarded when no one has any “use” for them. Flag himself is a responsibility, even a burden, but Umberto willingly assumes it. The dog might stand for man’s love for another creature—the last thing he would give up. Both Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. end on a very uncertain note, save for that of love between the two characters: Antonio and son fade out of focus and into the crowd at the end, pointing out to us how he is just one tale among countless others; Umberto and Flag walk off into the distance in a park, as children play nearby, and man and dog finally vanish as the endless stretch of road and rows of trees seem to converge at the horizon. Their fate is uncertain, and as is the case with all three films, the characters are representative of their entire generation.

    Connected to all of this is point number six, which has in fact been discussed at length because of its interrelated nature to the other aspects of analysis. But to add something to earlier discussion, there are many other people in a position very similar to that of the main character or characters. When large overhead shots of a crowd are shown, or when the focus goes to the countless rows of cells and the shouts emanating from those inside, or when the long, endless rows of broken-apart bicycle parts are seen, these are all visual indications that countless people are experiencing similar struggles.

    The camera does a slow, upward pan of the many rows of pawned linens as Antonio trades in his own; hundreds of other dogs all await either rescue or the inevitable gassing chambers; so many themes of repetition abound that the fact that these troubles are shared by so many others is undeniable. Essentially no one, not even their friends, seems particularly interested in the main character’s problems, making the feelings of solitude all the more intense. The prison wardens of Shoeshine don’t care what happens to the boys, and the policemen at the station, like most everyone else, aren’t interested in helping Antonio. Umberto gets no sympathy whatever from either the landlady or anyone else he encounters, including old friends. Whether or not the others are in a similar predicament isn’t always clear, but either way, everyone seems so self-concerned that they only wish to consider their own troubles. When Giuseppe and Pasquale are separated, and one of them is later placed in solitary confinement, they too feel all the more despondency of being trapped with either no one else or with a crowd of uncaring people. Even Maria, while she seems somewhat sympathetic to Umberto’s situation, is relatively aloof about it all. Umberto D. is perhaps the strongest film in the sense of creating a feeling of isolation, in that it is the film in which the least actually happens. As much more as could be said, and as many more examples could be cited, the decision to exclude these was deliberate. Nothing more is needed to illustrate one of the most basic problems—feelings of being alone, unwanted or helpless.

    The last point is likely the most significant of the seven, because it provides the most closure and coherence to the analysis. It allows for a greater, more all-encompassing consideration of the films and what truly draws them together, and it allows the other aspects of analysis to have a foundation and a purpose. And so, finally, the films show three of the groups of people that are most vulnerable in society: impoverished children (in Shoeshine), families whose wage-earner is unemployed (in Bicycle Thieves), and the elderly, especially the retired (in Umberto D). Taken together once again, the films show that people from every stage of life — young, middle-aged and elderly — faced similar problems. Each group is faced with sadness, poverty and an isolating society, and the government is an uncaring bureaucracy.

    Specifically, Shoeshine begins the trilogy of sorts by showing what could be described as the impacts of the war on those who are most alien to and most affected by it. Children are often left with a broken home, a single-parent family or no family at all, such as is the case with Pasquale. Homelessness and poverty take their toll on the children, who have little choice but to resort to illegal activities to try to make some money. The movie takes one of these scenarios, one of the common problems of the time, and shows its impact on two individuals—who will represent their entire generation, the whole age group. This is a portrayal of children who are among the most helpless and vulnerable and yet also among the least cared-about. The way the courts and the detention center are run indicates corruptness, indifference, unwillingness to try to create a better life or offer solutions for those who are victims — and treated as criminals. Worst of all, the hostile environment facilitated by both those in charge and the other boys is what ultimately dooms a perfectly wonderful friendship, and that is what makes this first film’s overall portrayal: the corruption and isolation of youth.

    Bicycle Thieves addresses, most specifically, the husband / father figure of the family, who is supposed to continue the role of the wage-earner. But how can he do so when he has no job and when no one will help him to find the one thing he needs for employment? He too finds himself entrapped within a society and a governmental system that is unwilling — perhaps even unable — to help. So many others are in the same predicament as Antonio, and his confused trip through the streets of the city illustrate a sense of being lost in many ways. This second film, and all that happens in it, is a continuation of sorts of the first film’s themes, especially solitude. It does take a different perspective on the problems, and in fact uses a somewhat different set of problems, but for a good reason: As stated, this film is about the second group of people that become most vulnerable, and that is the breadwinner of a family who has no job. As such, this film’s portrayal is of the plight of those who are middle-aged and unemployed.

    Lastly is Umberto D., and this completes the three films’ sequence. This film sees a man who has already gone through much of his life, including working for many years as a civil servant, and like the other two groups, he is dependent but finds himself in a situation in which the elderly are considered little more than a nuisance. Faced with both that and the eviction notice served him by a callous, hypocritical landlady, Umberto’s real wish seems to be simply not to fall any lower than he already has. Impoverished, he prefers to try to maintain his dignity above all else, and it is one of the few things he has left. He has few friends and no family, only the beloved little dog, Flag. For these reasons, he is perhaps even more isolated than even the two boys or Antonio and his son. They at least have some family, or  friends, or even just one another. Umberto D., therefore, is the last of the three portrayals: the loneliness of old age.


    The conclusion has, in some ways, been stated throughout the analysis. To continue on the discussion that was primarily introduced in the seventh point, what really draws the films together is not just the label of neorealism. And while the analysis has endeavored to connect the films on a great many different levels, showing similarity despite the obvious differences, the biggest point can still be reinforced: These three films are most powerful and most poignant when considered together. As has been stated, the sequence goes from the corruption and isolation of youth to the plight of the middle-aged, unemployed breadwinner, and finally to the isolation and sadness of old age, especially those who are retired. Henry David Thoreau is famous for having said that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and this could hardly apply more to the films. The particular problems that face each film’s characters are different, but the “bigger picture” is that each film is set in post-World War II Italy, and each group depicted is an illustration of how everyone was affected. Giuseppe and Pasquale, Antonio and Bruno, and Umberto (and Flag) are depicted on the levels of their individual tragedy, which extends to the greater social tragedy. That is, at least in part, what the films — and neorealism itself — aspired to do. They do not exist to protest, or to propose solutions, and certainly not to manipulate the viewer into any feelings.

    What is shown is the unglamorous reality, without resorting to artifice. What is shown is how children, adults and the elderly all face similar problems. The government and all of its bureaucratic tendencies is not concerned with these groups of people who need help the most. Society itself, including everyone from strangers to friends, do not seem interested in the troubles of anyone else. If the people behind the films took a different “route” and instead chose to manufacture happy endings, or to make the stories more plausible and with more action, or if the characters were not written as flawed and susceptible to human fallacy, perhaps the films would have been fine for a hollow Hollywood-type ending, which believes that stories ought to be resolved.

    For all that could be said and analyzed ad nauseum about the films, no need exists to continue much farther. For one reason, this is because all of the analysis that has since been seen is presented to at least display how each film is poignant and natural in its own right—and why the other films are so important to one another. No analysis can ever be perfect, or truly complete, but what has been attempted thus far is to show a decent cross-section of themes, styles and other methods that were used to make a film that was strong in its own right. And maybe there exists some hope behind neorealism, at least in the sense that, for all that they show that is saddening and crushing to a person, all the way down to the human spirit, the films do so with a purpose. The purpose is to remind people of what has happened and how people are being affected by it; the purpose is even to remind people that “We’re all human”— and, as Bazin so poetically said of De Sica — the director had a sort of love for his characters, and a sympathy for them. The audience gets the same experience from the reality of the situations shown, because they are not played for sappy sentimentality and are simply shown something as it happens. Besides, to create a scene, character or other device that is less than true would be to sacrifice and mock that compassion for the real people and their plight. In the real world, problems are seldom solved by happenstance, fluke or “fate.” In the real world, everyone — children, middle-aged people, older people — is affected by similar problems, whether they realize it or not.

References / Bibliography

Bazin, André. What Is Cinema? Volume II. Berkeley: University of California Press,

Bondanella, Peter. Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present. New York:
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Ladri di Biciclette. Dir. Vittorio De Sica. Videocassette. Arthur Mayer & Joseph Burstyn
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