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12 May 2007

Thesis: The Pursuit of Happyness IS The Bicycle Thief, updated in a small way with an American spin. Discuss.[More:]Just saw the first one, and just cannot shake the thought that it's essentially the same movie - the only difference is the producers' intent as realized in the happy ending.
I see definite parallels.
posted by Eideteker 12 May | 22:26
Oh, and the title is actually "The Bicycle Thieves", I think. It's a crucial distinction because it hints at a society of thieves. In both cases, it seems like the game is rigged against the father as he tries to support a family. Can't get a job without a suit; can't afford a suit without a job. Same think without a bike.
posted by Eideteker 12 May | 22:40
Weird. I just re-enlisted with Netflix now that the NBA playoffs are dead to me, and coincidentally ran into that MeFi thread about the (UK) Guardian's poll on best foreign language films. Right up in there and soon to be at the house and in my PlayStation is The Bicycle Thief (btw, Eideteker, in english, it's singular. It may be plural in Italian, though).

I'm completely looking forward to watching it (along with La Haine, Downfall and The City of Lost Children, all of which I pinched from that thread).

That said, I refuse to watch any Will Smith movie, so I've nothing left to contribute to the thread.
posted by ufez 12 May | 23:30
Bah, dumbass. I realised I should've looked up the Italian movie on Wiki to see if it was plural in the original language, and not only did Miko link to the article, but sure enough, it is.

My apologies, Eide.

(I was very happy to see both City of God and Central Station in that Guardian list, though. Brilliant, both. If anyone has some rec's for either foreign films or docs - especially those that have been released in the past two years, I'd be mighty appreciative)
posted by ufez 12 May | 23:33
1. There are a couple of region 1 DVD releases of Vittorio de Sica's movie--the one I have (which is a few years old) calls it "The Bicycle Thief," but the recent Criterion release that came out a couple of months ago calls it "Bicycle Thieves."

2. Re: the original post--the first time I saw The Bicycle Thief I thought, "Holy crap, this is the same plot as Pee-Wee's Big Adventure!" Then I watched Pee-Wee's Big Adventure again and realized that it's even more brilliant than I'd thought beforehand.
posted by Prospero 13 May | 08:02
Using the correct "Bicycle Thieves" is a recent phenomenon. Its original American release title was "The Bicycle Thief," and it was renamed by Criterion only after prodding by film types. Though a mistranslation, that's how all the prints I've seen have been titled, and when people talk about film history they tend to use that title because of the decades of discussion about it since. "Thieves" is definitely more accurate in terms of the picture's themes, though.

It's one of my favorite movies. On preview - Prospero, that's a hell of an observation about Pee Wee - I will have to think about that some more.
posted by Miko 13 May | 08:09
Very similar detailings of the travails of poverty and trying to improve one's lot.

Couple of differences: in The Bicycle Thief there's less hope and less of a concept of personal responsibility and personal ability to change one's own circumstances.

We all remember how the theft of the bicycle put a monkeywrench into the protagonist's plans, but do you remember how he got the job necessitiating the bike in the first place? Lottery. The economy was shit, and the few scarce jobs there were got lotted out randomly as I recall.

This is different from TPOH, where the economy is generally okay but with great internal inequalities.

And then there's the theft of the bicycle, another external force working upon the protagonist. An ill stroke of luck. Someone else's fault. The bad guy did it.

In TPOH, the protagonist is in a tough spot because A) he made a lousy bet on a business venture with the bone density scanners and B) his marriage falls apart and he loses his wife's material aid in raising the child. And let's not forget that C) much of the film's shenanigans center around his wild schedule, which is caused by undertaking an internship so he can improve himself. The internship is judged on merit and does in fact offer him the ability to transform his own circumstances, as opposed to the world of The Bicycle Thief, where the protagonist is at the whim of external forces both macro and micro in scope.

There is the brief subplot of the stolen bone density scanner and that is a strong parallel, I agree. But there couldn't be more contrast in how they're resolved. In The Bicycle Thief, the protagonist finds the thief in the neighborhood where he lives, but is tossed out on his ear by the thief's doting mother (who can't hear accusations against her baby boy) and the local inhabitants of the neighborhood (who are kinda thuggish and provincial in their urban-hood kind of way and don't like taking heat from an outsider). We see the thief's own internal life for a moment, we see that there are wheels within wheels, and the plot gets busted open by the unexpected twist: what will happen next? You're on the edge of your seat as the protagonist makes his next agonized choice.

Contrast this with TPOH, where the main challenge for Will Smith to overcome is physically catching up with the thief. We get some great shots of his lanky frame sprinting (ala Men in Black) and when he does finally catch up with the thief, it's some 2-dimensional character, a crazy person babbling nonsense, and all Will Smith has to do is impose his smooth charm and physical superiority to recover the device. We don't enter the world of the thief, we don't learn about the suffering of the bum, the story does not pivot. It's just a rather contrived little plot digression: challenge, struggle, resolution, that gets tossed into the center of the film to create some chase scenes. We learn that even the random curve balls life throws at us can be overcome if we try.

So while The Bicycle Thief's protagonist is knocked about (both positively and negatively) by forces larger than himself, Will Smith created his own problem, and creates his own solution using tools (Glide Memorial shelter) and opportunities (the internship) provided him by the system. There are plenty of folks in TPOH who continue to languish in poverty after Will Smith moves on up, and that's because they didn't choose to change their lot. The underlying message is that capitalism works, you're responsible for yourself, and you can do it. The Bicycle Thief's message is: you're fucked, don't try to understand it, accept your lot, don't hope, the system is broken.

Very, very, very different.

Interesting comparison! Thanks for bringing it up. Got the coffee flowing, apparently.
posted by scarabic 13 May | 12:14
Scarabic: Great observations. Your last paragraph, though, is exactly to my point about the intent of the producers, and much of the movies' content reasons backward from the conclusion the audience is expected to draw. In TPOH, I think the intent was to retell the American hero story - as you say, capitalism essentially works, success is dependent on individual determination and sacrifice, people are poor because they choose to be. There was no overall strong critique of the system. The hundreds of people portrayed in the shelter line who remain poor are not at all a concern of the movie - but I might also point out that the other members of the main character's internship class were not, either. They, too, may have been deserving of the opportunity, but only one person could recieve it. It was a depiction of success in a system designed to award success to the few but to use it as an example for the many.

In TBT, I agree that the point was to portray the utter futility of attempting to combat a system that was completely broken: accurate enough in post-WWII Italy, though of course things didn't stay that way.
posted by Miko 14 May | 08:31
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