Movie Project #20 and #21: The Bicycle Thief [1948] and 8 1/2 [1963]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Bicycle Thief [1948, De Sica]
The Bicycle Thief [1948, De Sica]
Starring Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell

This classic Italian neorealist film really impressed me. It’s such a simple story, but it is gripping just the same: A man living in poverty takes on a new job that requires a bicycle, but the bike gets stolen on his first day of work. Together with his young son he scours the city, desperately trying to find his bicycle so he can make money to support his family. It’s a bleak tale because it is hard not to get immersed in the world of poverty that was heavily prevalent in Italy at the time. In this regard, I loved how authentic the movie felt, and this is partly attributed to the fact that non-actors were used for many of the roles. The ending, while tragic and undeniably sad, was most appropriate and left me speechless. A fantastic drama that has easily earned its place in cinematic history. 9/10

8 1/2 [1963, Fellini]
8 1/2 [1963, Fellini]
Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Claudia Cardinale

My first Fellini film left me puzzled and confused. I am still a little unsure as to what I saw. At times, it felt like an overly self-indulgent egotrip, yet it was often hard to look away. The film is about a famous movie director who has a case of writer’s block. He has retreated to a spa to help relax and find inspiration for his upcoming sci-fi blockbuster. During this time, the movie weaves in and out of reality, as well as the director’s dreams. Some scenes are quite memorable (the harem dream scene in which all of the women in his life come together is particularly brilliant), yet I felt others fall flat. One element that is consistent is the beautiful imagery — there seemed to be an emphasis on style over substance. The stream of consciousness narrative reminded me a lot of Synecdoche, New York (obviously influenced by 8 1/2), a movie that bored me beyond belief. As a piece of art, there’s no denying 8 1/2 has exceptional style. It just struggled to keep me entertained throughout. 6/10

What do you guys think? Agree? Disagree? I would love to hear some counterpoints for 8 1/2.

Movie Project #6: Rome, Open City [1945]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Rome, Open City [1945]

Rome, Open City [1945]
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Genre: Drama/War
Language: Italian
Country: Italy

Going into Rome, Open City, I knew very little about it. I knew that it was set in Nazi-occupied Rome during World War II, and that it was credited for sparking Italy’s neorealism style of filmmaking. As someone unfamiliar with this movement, I didn’t know what to expect.

Right away I was intrigued by the movie’s setting. It is fascinating that director Roberto Rossellini and writers Sergio Amidei and Federico Fellini sat down and began working on the script just two months after the Allies forced the Germans out of Rome. The film began shooting in January 1945 while much of the war damage remained. The fact that they decided to create this film immediately after occupation paints an incredible portrait that was not only fresh at the time but also incredibly raw and visceral. Because everything takes place in this war-torn city, the movie has almost a documentary feel about it.

Around the halfway mark, there was a startling twist that I was not expecting. From my experience with films during this time period (admittedly Hollywood selections), this was not a regular occurrence. This major plot change was a bit jarring, but made the film feel even more “real” and authentic.

Rome, Open City [1945]

As the movie follows those involved with the Italian resistance, it’s hard not to get swept up with them. There’s Pina (Anna Magnani), a widow with two children that is pregnant with another. She is tough, and will do anything to help fight the oppression. There’s Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero), the devoted resistance leader, a strong son-of-a-gun who fights endlessly for his country. And then there’s the priest, Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizio), who steals the show. The character development of Don Pietro is particularly stunning — at the beginning he kind of stumbles around, occasionally getting some laughs, but by the end he shows an impressive amount of bravery and becomes a powerful figure.

Rome, Open City is a great history lesson that doesn’t hold anything back. There’s torture, betrayal, and murder — all things you would expect during wartime. With brilliant documentary-esque filmmaking and some incredible acting performances, it is easy to see why this is so highly regarded even today.