Matchup of the Day: Bicycle Thieves vs. Breaking Away
Today’s matchup involves bicycles and class struggles. Breaking Away is about a young bicycling enthusiast trying to rise above his working class roots. Bicycle Thieves follows a man trying to track down his stolen bicycle, which he needs to support his family.
In Breaking Away, a rivalry exists between the locals in Bloomington, Indiana and the wealthy college students. The main character, Dave, and his three friends all come from families that used to earn their livings working in the limestone quarry before it closed. Though the limestone cutters helped build the university, citizens of the town feel excluded from the campus. The four friends spend their time swimming and engaging in mutual harassment with the university attendees.
Dave’s passion is bicycling. So much so that he idolizes the Italian bicycling team – living and breathing all things from the culture. His father, a used car salesman, thinks he’s nuts and want’s him to behave more practically. When the university allows the locals to enter the annual bicycle raise, normally reserved for college students, Dave and his friends take the opportunity to prove themselves. They band together and win the race.
Bicycle Thieves takes place in Italy after World War II when jobs are scarce. Antonio, desperate to provide for his family, manages to find employment hanging posters. In order to perform his duties, he must first get his bicycle out of hock. His family trades in what few valuable possessions they own for the bike. Antonio, brimming with optimism, sets out to begin his new job. This lasts for only a short time, however, when Antonio’s bike is stolen. He spends the rest of the film attempting, in vain, to retrieve it.
In both films, a bicycle plays an important role. With Breaking Away, it has more symbolic importance than in Bicycle Thieves, where the bike literally represents the well-being of Antonio’s family. Dave in Breaking Away has more options than Antonio. His father makes a good living selling cars, and Dave is a bright and talented bicyclist. By winning the race, Dave and his friends transcend the class boundaries between the locals and the university students. It just isn’t as a do or die situation as with Antonio. Also, Antonio’s bike is stolen by a person no better off than he is. He isn’t so much competing to escape his social class as much as merely making a living. The depressed economy leads to the poor preying on each other.
There’s a scene in Breaking Away when Dave goes to work for his father at the used car lot. A customer attempts to return a faulty car, but his father won’t take it back. Dave is surprised by his father’s dishonest business dealings. Later, Dave enters a bike race in which the Italian bicycle team is participating. At first, he’s excited to compete against them. Disillusionment kicks in when one of the Italian bicyclists deliberately cause him to crash. He tearfully goes to his father and says “Everyone cheats.” This is only a minor setback for Dave since he goes on to win the other race. The ending of Bicycle Thieves doesn’t turn out so well. Antonio never gets his bike back. With seemingly no options left, he tries to steal someone else’s bike. He is caught in the act and publicly shamed in front of his son.