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.