The film that changed my life: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio De Sica (1948)

I didn't see Bicycle Thieves in its entirety until recently – only snippets here and there. But it was projected on Los Angeles' Wilshire Boulevard a couple of years ago, which really gave me a coherent grasp of the full story. I immediately bought tickets to see it again the next day.

After several years of unemployment, Lamberto Maggiorani's Antonio finds a job tacking up movie posters round Rome – a job for which he needs a bicycle. His wife sells all their bed linen and buys him a bike which is promptly stolen. After a long and fruitless hunt for the thief, a desperate Antonio resolves to steal a bike for himself. He gets caught. The shattering last scene will always stay with me: a weeping Antonio walking through crowds with the police as his son looks on. It shows a heartbreaking loss of innocence.

I love the film for all its thematic undercurrents and subcultures. Ideas around the church, morality and war – not to mention the hangover from a fascist regime – bubble away beneath the surface of the story. The battle between good and evil (and, indeed, what makes a person good or evil) is perfectly pitched.

It's also staggeringly well shot. In particular I remember the crushing scene in the rain, which captures the real misery of rain that so many film-makers have since tried to invoke.

Bicycle Thieves now influences how I see other stories. I suppose I've started to measure other films and scripts against it. Thinking about it, before seeing this film I perhaps didn't look for themes as much; I previously might have looked for good characters and a compelling story. But Bicycle Thieves taught me that a strong reliance on themes can enrich a narrative. I think about the film a lot – it's certainly enhanced my life and I like the idea of emulating some of its qualities in my future roles.

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars in The Shadow Line on BBC2, starting 5 May


Interview by Mina Holland

The GuardianTramp

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