Friday, April 29, 2011

30 Day Movie Meme: Day 22


I'm a sap when it comes to movies that pack an emotional punch. I can cry with the best of them and dozens of films have made cry (and continue to make me cry) over the years.

There's brave William Wallace (Mel Gibson) yelling for Scotland's "Freedom!" in Braveheart. There's Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) asking his father's ghost if he wants to play a final game of catch in Field of Dreams. There's the scene in Forrest Gump where Forrest (Tom Hanks) speaks to his beloved Jenny at her final resting place. Most recently there was the heartbreaking, yet understated, scene where George (Colin Firth) receives the news that his partner was killed in a car accident in A Single Man

My runner-up was the final film montage scene of big-screen kisses in Cinema ParadisoThat beautiful scene, combined with Ennio Morricone's stunning "Love Theme", kills me every single time. I saw it for the first time during Italian class in the eighth grade and I bawled in the classroom. But, in the end, it was a different Italian film that has the most emotional scene. 

While all of those scenes still make me cry each and every time I watch the movies, there's one that really stands out -- Vittorio de Seca's 1948 classic, Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette). This Italian neo-realist classic tells the simple story of Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) and his son, Bruno (Enzo Staiola) as they try to track down the men who stole Antonio's bicycle in postwar Rome. Antonio's job is to plaster the city with posters but, when thieves ride off with his bicycle, his only mode of transportation, his entire livelihood is at stake.

Neither Maggiorani nor young Staiola were actors when they were hired in their lead roles -- it was all in keeping with the neo-realist atmosphere of the film. De Seca insisted on using real people to accurately portray the characters in his film. Although both Maggiorani and Staiola went on to make more films for Italian cinema, the fact that this was their first role is a remarkable feat. Both of them were absolute naturals in front of the camera, which made the film so effective.

The most emotional scene, by far, is the final frame. Antonio, a solitary man who loves his family and feels like a failure if he can't put food on the table, is forced to commit a final desperate act -- steal someone else's bicycle so that he can go back to work. Bruno is shocked at what his father has done, but he doesn't have time to say anything before his father is engulfed by an angry mob who witnessed his act. Young Bruno flies into the crowd, trying to rescue his father. Eventually, they are let go by the bicycle owner -- but not before Antonio is verbally shamed in front of Bruno ("A fine example you set for your son.").

Antonio silently starts crying -- he was unable to recover his bicycle and will likely remain without a job until he can afford a replacement. He was, in the end, forced to stoop to the level of the men who stole from him. But, it's Antonio's realization that he lost the adoring admiration of his young son that was the real reason he was brought to tears. It's hard to watch such a good man so ashamed of his desperate actions. The pair don't exchange any words, but the visibly shaken Bruno quietly slips his hand into his father's and the two walk off together.

It's an emotionally raw scene, made all the more effective by the fact that it was portrayed by two non-actors. With very little dialogue, it accurately portrays the ruthlessness of others, the quiet desperation so many suffer through and the unconditional love we have for those who are most important to us. And, after spending nearly two hours with Antonio and little Enzo, the final scene is heartbreaking.


  1. What a great idea for a post!! A recent favorite of mine was the final scene of The Bridges of Madison County where Meryl Streep's character is having her ashes scattered and we hear her voice within a letter say 'go well my children'. It is a moving movie all the way through but that just broke the flood gates!! What a softy huh?!

    I saw an excellent French film called Sarah's Key last week. It's world wide debut was at the Toronto Film Festival last September. It is based on a Holocaust novel and is extremely moving. I kid you not my face was running with tears and I left the theatre physically shaking.
    I cannot recommend it enough. It is powerful stuff. I'm particualry interested in the Holocaust so couldn't avoid getting emotionally involved. I am struggling though to write a review. I have had about six atempts and scrapped them all. I just can't get the right words to come out!
    If you ever come across Sarah's Key don't miss it. It will move you like nothing else, and is a damn fine film in the proccess.

  2. Oh..if you are a history buff being an editor to a history magazine you'll note it is 30th April...the day Hitler blew his brains out sixty six years ago!!

  3. Yeah, it's all part of the 30 Day Movie Meme I've been doing. On days when I have nothing to review, I do one of the questions. I had to really think about this one!

    I've actually never seen The Bridges of Madison County but I've heard it's a really sad one. Being a softy is a good thing!

    I've actually heard of Sarah's Key. I think I remember people raving about it when it was here at TIFF. I'll add it to my list of Must-See Movies.

    Yeah, there's always a whole slew of articles about Hitler around this time.

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