Review: The Bike Thief
by Kaleem Aftab
- Matt Chambers’ debut feature doesn’t have the same emotional power as the classic film it is inspired by
Matt Chambers' debut film, The Bike Thief, is an homage to Vittorio De Sica's neorealist classic Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves). The British director has stolen the simple premise too: a man suffers when the vehicle he needs for his job delivering pizzas is stolen. As he tries to find the bike (here, it's a motorised scooter), we learn something about the city that he lives in and the struggles of people like him. An Italian roaming the streets of Rome with his son after World War 2 has become a Romanian immigrant traversing London's narrow roads after Brexit. The remake has found its way to the Tokyo International Film Festival, where The Bike Thief had its world premiere, but the trouble with paying homage to one of cinema's all-time great movies is that it's hard not to come across as a cheap knock-off, or get knocked-off your bike.
It's a film with a lot of heart that's at pains to show the plight of Eastern Europeans in a society that looks upon them sceptically, even in a place as culturally diverse as London, where most of the people the man meets are of mixed heritage themselves. That fact, however, doesn't stop them looking at the Romanian, known only as The Rider, as a potential threat to their financial well-being, especially as he seems to be a speed demon when it comes to getting people's pies in front of their television sets. The Rider is portrayed with panache by Alec Secareanu who made a name for himself starring as an immigrant food picker in God's Own Country [+see also:
interview: Francis Lee
film profile], and here he seems to sweat every sorrow that life has to offer.
Chambers starts the film by showing us The Rider’s life. His marriage to cleaner Elena (4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days [+see also:
interview: Cristian Mungiu
interview: Oleg Mutu
film profile]' Anamaria Marinca) is good, but they struggle to make ends meet with a teenager daughter (Alexia Maria Proca) and a young baby to feed. They live on a council estate where the kids smash cars for fun. The Rider is constantly worried that something terrible is going to happen, and hardship follows him around like a rain cloud in a cartoon. When his bike goes missing, it soon becomes apparent that it will result in him getting in debt, losing his job and his home. As such, he's faced with the decision to do or die, and the film subversively asks us whether two wrongs can make a right. Would we be as fond or The Rider if he was forced to do a criminal act out of necessity? Where do his and the audience's moral compasses lie? Do they match up?
As an update to The Bicycle Thieves, the film works in terms of its desire to highlight a dire social situation in a harsh world. However, De Sica's film was also a technical and innovative marvel of the time and that's too much to expect from any film that's not being made at a time of innovative new technology, let alone a low-budget debut. On his side, Chambers' film offers some lovely photography from award-winning cinematographer Nanu Segal and a decent soundtrack by Graham Hastings (from Scottish band Young Fathers). The ending is choppy and abrupt, and Chambers doesn't quite manage to make work the central moral conundrum that life can force us to do crazy stuff to protect our family. It doesn’t feel all that pertinent as a tale of Brexit Britain.
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