Mike Mills poignant portrait of a father and son relationship inspired us to look back at how films from Chaplin to Beginners have handled this paternal subject.
The Bicycle Thief (1948)
Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief, one of the defining works of Italian neorealist cinema, has at its core a touching father-son relationship. The movie follows down-on-his-luck Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) as he and his young son, Bruno (Enzo Staiola), walk the streets of Rome, looking for the thief who has stolen the bicycle Antonio needs in order to do his job, putting up posters around the city. Bruno devotedly helps his father, and is a companion in his misfortune. In a memorable scene, Antonio takes Bruno to a posh restaurant to try to forget, for just a short while, the loss of the bicycle. Sitting among the rich patrons, Antonio orders food for himself and Bruno that he cannot afford, conspiratorially saying to his son, “If your mother saw you... But we won't tell her about this.” It is understandable that De Sica was preoccupied with father-son relationships during the making of The Bicycle Thief, as his partner, actress Maria Mercader, was at the time pregnant with their first son, Manuel. When De Sica was casting non-actors for the roles in the film, he chose factory worker Lamberto Maggiorani to play Antonio in part because he brought his son along with him to the audition. De Sica portrays the bond between Antonio and Bruno as very special, yet the simplicity of their familial interaction was something he himself struggled to achieve. Though while making The Bicycle Thief De Sica was living with Mercader––who he would finally marry in 1969––he was still married to Giuditta Rissone, who was the motherof his daughter, Emi. Unable to divorce Rissone, De Sica chose to be a father to two families, and would split his evenings between his children in two households. (Apparently on New Year's Eve, he would put the clock back two hours in Mercader's house so that he could ring in the new year with both families!)