Actually three: the French title is ‘Le Voleur de Bicyclette’, the Italian ‘Ladri di Biciclette’, the English ‘Bicycle Thieves.’ How many thieves, how many thefts? At the Cinematheque it was assumed one of each, but there are two.
The second thing, this time about the real/ fiction relationship. In the first theft in the film (Antonio Ricci is an unemployed man, given a chance of a job sticking up bill posters, but needs a bicycle to keep the job…), we’re made conscious of the perilous thread by which our hero hangs; his bicycle is a kind of anchor that fixes him in the world; without it he is all at sea. The thief disappears into the real crowd, the real streets, the real traffic in the real city of Rome, in 1949. Its bombed-out plots, its shelled monuments, its chaos: Ricci has suddenly lost his place in the world, his story, his thread in the fiction.
The third thing happens very early on, when Ricci goes to the pawnshop to retrieve his bicycle. “It’s over there,” he says, “next to the red one.” Roland Barthes wrote about the ‘punctum’, a puncture hole in a piece of fiction that lets the light of the real in, that reminds us of the real within the fiction. The red bicycle, in a black and white film, reminds me that black and white is fiction, while color carries the weight of the real.