The finest film in the area this weekend is probably Bicycle Thief (1949, by Cesare Zavattini and Vittorio de Sica), at Currier. The understatement and visual beauty of this film underscore a simple drama: an Italian workman and his small son search Rome after a bicycle thief steals the bicycle on which the man's job depends. The amateur actors (a factory worker and a working class boy) playing lead roles are really a joy to see. This was the first major film to use amateurs, and their performances seem almost effortlessly effective. When de Sica and Zavattini approached American film magnate David Selznick for financial backing, Selznick wanted Cary Grant to play the lead role. That was hardly what the film makers had in mind, so Selznick proposed Henry Fonda. At that, they decided to go elsewhere for money, and, you'll see, it was well that they did.
An earlier Italian neo-realistic film, Roberto Rossellini's Paisan (1946), is at Harvard-Epworth. This personal, improvisatory journal of six human encounters during the Battle of Sicily is, for many people, even more moving than Bicycle Thief, but has never had equal mass appeal.
The humane approach of these films seems too mild to be politically controversial today, as their attacks on war and poverty seemed when they were made. If the modern political films at Harvard Square this week--Millhouse: A White Comedy and State of Siege--seem heavy handed by comparison, think about the fate of the humane approach in Chile, where State of Siege was filmed only a little over a year ago.