Bicycle Thieves

Do we pay for breathing? Why, then, should poor people pay for food? In times of despair and when you lose hope in humanity, there is always Italy, and Italians, a country of men, before laws. Or laws at the service of mankind, and not the other way around. In “a country of laws, not of men,” the homeless man caught stealing cheese and sausages worth 5 euros (less than $6.00 at today’s rates) would have been sentenced for theft. Yet the Italian Supreme Court, in a decision that brings out the best of Italy’s humane tradition, dictated that stealing small quantities of food out of hunger and extreme desperation “does not constitute a crime.” The man caught in the unlawful act was not even an Italian citizen, which makes the judges’ sentence even more commendable. The spirit that animates the court, probably as old as the land and its compassionate people, has been reflected time and again in Italian arts, including literature and film. If you have not yet, watch now Vittorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, a masterpiece of Italian cinema’s postwar neorealism. Watch it until the very end, and you will understand why Italians still have a thing or two to teach others, and why—one may hope—future generations may look down at persisting injustice in our present world as appalled as we do now on the cruelties of Talion.

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