Bicycle Thieves / Ladri di biciclette

Released 1948

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Screenplay: Cesare Zavattini

Featured Actors: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell






It is not the actor who lends the character a face which, however versatile he may be, is necessarily his own, but the character reveals himself, sooner or later, in “that” particular face and in no other…their ignorance is an advantage, not a handicap. The man in the street, particularly if he is directed by someone who is himself an actor, is raw material that can be molded at will. It is sufficient to explain to him those few tricks of the trade which may be useful to him from time to time; to show him the technical and, in the best sense of the term, of course, the histrionic means of expression at his disposal. It is difficult – perhaps impossible – for a fully trained actor to forget his profession. It is far easier to teach it, to hand just the little that is needed just what will suffice for the purpose at hand.
Vittorio De Sica

–Large Budget
–David Selznick offered to finance the film if only De Sica would cast Cary Grant in the lead
–De Sica aimed to transport reality to the realm of poetry
–Bazin remarked the Bicycle Thief is the “only valid Communist film of the whole past decade”
–The film’s title is an incorrect translation – it should read “The Bicycle Thieves”

Actors & Acting
–De Sica had absolute faith in the expressive powers of ordinary people
–Both leads (father – Antonio Ricci & son – Bruno) are non-professional actors

Realism & Plot
Realistic Elements
–Non-Professional Actors
–On-location shooting
–Social Themes

–Complicated plot aimed at moving the sympathies of the audience
–Despite the on-location shooting and the emphasis on documentary styled plot, the realistic texture is managed through careful planning
–Crowd scenes carefully choreographed
–40 market vendors hired for a single scene
–Roman fire brigade drenched the set to simulate a rain storm
–Actors playing Antonio & Bruno carefully selected because of particular facial expressions & mannerisms in their walk
–Six cameras from a number of angles
–Summed up – De Sica creates an illusion of reality, not a reflection of reality
–Bazin is quoted as saying the storyline disappeared into the work
–The structure of the story is that of a traditional quest
–The sound track and the fortuneteller depart from the strict realist approach

Theme & Meaning
–Traditionally the film is seem as a political film
–Combines pressing social problems with an implicit denunciation of the political system
–Others have interpreted it as a pessimistic & fatalistic view of the human condition & a philosophical parable on absurdity, solitude & loneliness

–Note how crowds & masses are threatening rather than reassuring
–Which contradicts the usual proletarian solidarity or class-consciousness
–Vague offers of aid are offered, but no real understanding of Antonio’s personal tragedy are shown
–De Sica shows bureaucrats, police, and pious churchgoers who do not understand Antonio’s plight
–Added weight is given because these are members of his social class
–In the universe of the film, economic solutions are ultimately ineffective in curing the meaningless, absurd, human predicament

Hopelessness + Alienation
–The “endless” stack of goods (sheets & whatnot) stacked in the pawnbrokers shop – signifying the large-scale economic struggle
–Again, the large number of unsolved cases in the police files
–Rome’s open market where stolen items are resold to their owners
–Endless number of bicycle parts

Vanishing Characters
–Characters drop in & out of sight
–The thief vanishes with the bicycle
–The old man vanishes in the church
–A man appears seemingly out of nowhere when Antonio attempts to steal a bike

Anti-Realistic elements + destiny
–Antonio first scoffs at the fortuneteller Signora Satona (insinuating he is in charge of his destiny) — then later returns to her
–Is Antonio really in command of his life?
–Recall early in the film when Antonio leaves his bicycle leaning against various buildings
–The film takes place from Friday to Sunday (Christ’s resurrection & Dante’s journey through Hell)
–Antonio’s bicycle’s brand is “Fides” = translated “Faith”
–His failure to find it – ironic?
–More irony – a man who having lost his own bicycle becomes a bicycle thief himself
–Perhaps De Sica is showing that the kind of economic development that Italy is undergoing produces a society in which a stolen bicycle may signify hunger & deprivation
–No amount of social engineering will prevent this – only the family can provide solace from life’s solitude, loneliness, and alienation
–Note the last shot as father & son, hand in hand, disappear into a crowd