Director Matt Chambers wanted a tribute to the classic film Bicycle Thieves, about a man searching for the stolen bike his job depends on.
His new film The Bike Thief transplants the story from Rome after the Second World War to present day London.
This time it’s a Romanian delivery driver whose family’s entire subsistence teeters on the brink when his motorbike goes missing.
The theft of the bike is almost secondary to the real point of the film. It’s a foil for showing us every aspect of life just scraping by for a low-waged migrant family—and just how easily everything can fall apart.
Chambers takes his time doing that. It’s almost half way through the film before the bike goes missing.
In fact it’s several minutes before we even see The Rider’s face, hidden beneath his helmet as the camera tracks him around London.
We never learn his name. He’s clearly meant as a stand-in for every delivery driver.
We only learn more about him and his life as he comes home to his flat and finally takes the helmet off.
Alec Secareanu looks genuinely knackered as The Rider.
It’s not just his appearance—red-rimmed eyes and sunken cheeks—but his completely worn-out demeanour.
And when the bike goes missing, we also see his dependence on the mercy of the callous boss who also happens to be his landlord.
When The Rider tries to report the theft at a police station, he’s confronted instead with probing questions about his status in Britain.
It’s a convincing and unglamourised portrayal of the poverty and precarity of low paid work.