We went to see The Bicycle Thief. For my wife, the center of the movie is the scene in which the father, Antonio, in his anxiety and desperation, strikes his son Bruno. They have been scouring all of Rome--the movie is a bittersweet travelogue of that city, grey and stained, battered by the war--and so a small thing is enough to make the father--a kind, soft-spoken man--briefly turn tyrant. The little boy cries, recriminates, keeps his distance from the immediately regretful Antonio. They walk along, the father both half-heartedly defending himself and attempting to reconcile with Bruno--who informs him, "I'm telling Mama." It is sad and sweet, the two of them maintaining their dignity--and finding a way back to each other, swallowing pride because they love each other, and have only that.
For me, it's the two of them trying to forget the loss of the bicycle--the only thing keeping them from abject poverty--and eating mozzarella on bread in the restaurant, a big bottle of wine to share. Bruno keeps glancing at his well-to-do counterpart, another little boy tucking it in, his own cheese-topped bread eaten daintily--while Bruno's string of mozzarella refuses to part from the hand-held bread as he gobbles it, a little self-conscious. His father has Bruno do the math, figure out how much money they would have made if the bicycle had not been stolen, and for a moment they have the money, there in the restaurant--for that brief space no longer in terrible trouble--and a million miles away from all bicycle thieves.
A famous family story: My father's employer lied to the bank about my father's income--hiking it just enough for us to buy the house I grew up in. And they hung on to that home desperately--always in debt, always on the verge--both my parents working, my father taking me with him sometimes just so we could be together. So what else can I do but call Vittorio De Sica's Ladri di biciclette the greatest film ever made, as it tells me of the constant need for love and pity, at the end the father and son in defeat but holding hands, going home together.