There are two scenes in Bicycle Thieves that have always stuck out for me, and in considering them they also stand for an over-all comment on Italian neo-realism.
In the first, Antonio and Bruno are eating their mozzarellas in the restaurant, when it dawns on Bruno just how little money the family has, and he puts his food back down on the plate. Antonio urges him to continue eating, that for at the moment, things are OK. The second moment occurs when Antonio is searching the banks of the river, and hears the cries of a crowd hoping to rescue a drowning boy. Momentarily, Antonio panics – Bruno having been left behind moments earlier. Running under a darkened overpass and emerging into the light, both we and Antonio see a different child pulled from the river.
In both cases, there’s the Italian Neo-realism sense of tragedy hanging over the proceedings, but tempered with momentary flashes of hope. There may not be another restaurant meal in Bruno and Antonio’s upcoming future, but they realize they have to enjoy the one they’ve got. And while De Sica tricks the audience into thinking that – just when it couldn’t get any worse – Bruno drowns, there’s a glimpse of respite following it as Bruno stands at the top of the stairs, unharmed.
While Bicycle Thieves climaxes with the tragedy of Bruno watching Antonio attacked by an angry mob after his attempt to steal someone else’s bicycle, the closing moments show a man and his son walking hand-in-hand – towards an uncertain future, no doubt, but one at least held together by forgiveness and understanding. It’s a harsh world out there in Italian Neo-realism, but at least there’s some hope somewhere that keeps us walking forwards. A lot like real life itself, innit?