From the current popularity of superhero blockbusters to monster movies produced by Universal Studios during the great depression, the medium of film has often been heavily associated with escapism, especially when reality may serve up something less appealing. Two films that examine the idea of what it means to construct a story more sublime than the hardships of reality are Life is Beautiful, directed by Roberto Benigni, and Bicycle Thieves, directed by Vittorio De Sica. While Life is Beautiful makes the case for preserving laughter and innocence by weaving a story around hardship, Bicycle Thieves reveals how an equally vital and moving film can be crafted by stripping away artifice to find poetry within despair.
While both of these films are set in diegetic worlds containing impossibly brutal situations, the characters in each grapple with them in vastly different ways that appear to permeate through each film’s entire visual make-up, from the composition of each shot, to the dialogue, to how interactions with secondary characters and extras are placed. The directors of these films both made bold, sometimes controversial choices in their philosophies of how to portray tragedy- choices he viewer can perhaps most keenly get a glimpse of by viewing scenes in which the protagonist deals with bad news in front of his young son. By examining the characterization of the father, the characterization of the son, the interaction with secondary characters, and the nature of the tragedy itself in these scenes, each director’s aims can be more clearly seen.