strange_complex: (Penny Farthing)
IMDb page here. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] rosamicula for helping guide me towards it. Watched at home on a video borrowed from the Edward Boyle library.

After finally securing a tape of it that worked from the library on Thursday, I watched Ladri di Biciclette in the afternoon, in preparation for my Italian exam. I'd seen a Chinese film inspired by it, Beijing Bicycle (2001), a few years ago with [livejournal.com profile] mr_flay, so I already knew the basic set-up. In the Chinese version, a boy from the country comes to Beijing to get work, secures a delivery job which requires him to have a bicycle, gets one as an advance on his salary, but then has it stolen. He can't do the job without it, and it's already become a great symbol of his upward aspirations, so he spends the rest of the film hunting it down through Beijing, and becoming more and more obsessed and unhinged as he does. In the end, it's not about the bike at all, but his frustrated ambitions and sense of being trapped in a hopelessly unfair socio-economic dead-end, as well as a way of portraying the social make-up of the city as a whole. But although the boy's difficult position and the unfairness of having his bicycle stolen make you feel sympathy for him initially, by the end of the film he has all but completely alienated the viewer through his obsession and his own willingness to wreak violent revenge on the people he views as responsible for his plight.

It turns out that the Chinese version is pretty faithful to the Italian original in general outline, but that there are some significant differences. Most importantly, the Italian main character, Ricci (a deliberately ironic play on ricchi (riches)?), isn't a teenage boy - he's one of late 1940s Rome's great mass of unemployed adults. This is partly just a reflection of the different cultural context - each is a plausible character for the situation in their respective times and places. But it also makes for quite a different tone of film. Most of the Chinese boy's actions can be viewed as driven by fiery teenage emotions, and this makes them fairly easy to dismiss as simply immature. But Ricci's increasingly questionable behaviour appears much more serious, coming as it does from a grown man - and especially a grown man with his young (but frighteningly old for his years) son following him around, witnessing his father's disintegration.

We watch Ricci gradually progressing through a serious of increasingly questionable actions - harassing an elderly man in church, completely neglecting his son, rashly spending money his family can ill afford to try to make it up to him, starting fights in the street, and finally trying to steal a bicycle himself. And far more so than in the Chinese equivalent, we can understand the apparent logic in each step he takes, even as we recognise that it is hopeless, foolish and driven by desperation. Yes, we lose sympathy for him as he loses his grip on where the line between right and wrong lies - but never quite as entirely as in the Chinese film. We understand, even if we don't condone. And perhaps this is most of all because the son is there with him - to remind us of just how much is at stake for this man, who cannot support his family without this bicycle.

I can't remember how Beijing Bicycle ends, and can't find out from online reviews, either. But I think Ladri di Biciclette is just slightly less bleak in its denouement. Ricci is caught in the act of becoming a bicycle thief himself, and surrounded and slapped by a knot of concerned citizens (who of course had not been there when the same thing happened to him). But it is at this point that he gets his first break of the film. The owner, seeing Ricci's son looking on, and recognising his desperate circumstances, decides not to press charges and lets him walk away. He's still lost his bicycle, his job, his economic future and his respect in his son's eyes. But his problems have not been compounded further, and he has the chance at least to rebuild his life and his relationship with his son. He has also learnt through example of the possibility of compassion - something he had not been able to demonstrate himself earlier, as he continued to seek revenge even when all hope of recovering his bicycle had clearly been lost. It's a very humane ending, really, and also has the important effect of putting Ricci's situation back under a wider social gaze: allowing us to step out of his blinkered obsession and reminding us that he is just one of many people trapped in a completely desperate situation.

As a result, it feels more powerful than the Chinese remake did. We've watched a man being broken by a combination of his circumstances and his own warped sense of justice, and we haven't been able to write off his behaviour as hormonal sounding off. Instead, he's remained entirely human in our eyes - and we know that Rome is full of people going through much the same trials as he has. Just like Roma, Città Aperta it comes across as a very honest example of Italian self-examination - and makes me feel all the more in love, always and ever, with Rome. What a relief that, by 1962, De Sica felt able to make films like Ieri, Oggi, Domani - which I don't think is as good, but is certainly testament to a much happier Italy.

strange_complex: (Sleeping Hermaphrodite)
Or, Why I Cannot Stop Listening To This CD.

For one thing, I have waited a long time to hear the voice I am listening to now1. Without even knowing I was waiting, for much of that time.

My long journey to the Vatican )

Moreschi - a critical appreciation )

A scraggy brown tail-feather, in which Penny demonstrates her remarkable aptitude for excessive over-romanticisation - with pictures! )

Well, if you’ve read all of the above, you deserve a medal. I don’t mind if you didn’t. I wrote it for me, primarily, because I wanted a reason to think closely about this music and why I like it, and I want to remember my reasons and initial reactions in years to come. But the least I can do either way is to let you judge Moreschi for yourself by leaving you with the link for an mp3 I found while Googling for pictures of him and details about his life. It only takes about 20 seconds to download over broadband, which, for a three-minute track, tells you volumes about the quality of the original recording before you even listen to it. And I must say that then going on to listen to it over tiny, tinny computer speakers doesn’t do Moreschi any favours. Still, for whatever you may make of it, I give you Gounod’s Ave Maria, after a theme by Bach, performed by Alessandro Moreschi.

(And an alternative source if that one isn't working – just click on 'escuchar').

Goodnight.

-----------
1. As its length makes obvious, this entry ended up being written in several sections over a series of evenings. I did listen to Moreschi's CD for most of the time I was writing. But any use of words such as 'now' should be taken as applicable to the specific sentence concerned, not necessarily the whole piece.

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