“Bicycle Thieves” – in the Vicious Circle of Poverty

Bicycle Thieves


Title: “Bicycle Thieves” (“Ladri di biciclette”)

Release Date: 1948

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Cast: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell





“Bicycle Thieves” by Vittorio De Sika from 1948 is a movie that has lost none of its impact even today. The simple story about a man who, together with his son, searches for a stolen bicycle, his family’s only means of livelihood, hits straight to the heart. And it stays there for a long time, just like the final gesture of the little boy firmly grabbing his father’s hand. It’s a sign of our solidarity with a humiliated man trapped in a vicious circle of depraving poverty.

“Bicycle Thieves” – an exceptional item of Italian cinema

“Bicycle Thieves” is one of the classics of Italian cinema, which, despite the passage of years, has retained a powerful emotional charge. The script of the movie is loosely based on the novel by Luigi Bartolini. The plot is very simple, the cinematography was shot in natural, modest interiors and urban settings, and the main roles were played by amateurs. Interestingly, despite these very ascetic means of expression, the picture was among the most expensive Italian films made in 1948. Indeed, the simplicity here is a deliberate procedure, intended to trigger the viewer’s empathy. And it must be admitted that this intention completely succeeded, the work was received with enthusiasm, it was awarded with a Golden Globe and an honorary Oscar, among other awards.

“Bicycle Thieves” presents the story of a certain Lamberto Maggiorani (Antonio Ricci), an unemployed man who has a wife and a small son to support. One day the protagonist receives a coveted job offer of putting up posters, but in order to do this job it is necessary to have a bicycle. So the family pawns the bedding in a pawn shop to get back the bicycle, for which, in turn, they had previously received a loan. In the morning, Lamberto eagerly sets off to work, but while hanging a movie poster, someone steals his bicycle.

Bicycle Thieves movie review

From that moment, a frantic search for the vehicle begins. The man, along with his young son Brun (Enzo Staiola), scours the city’s neighborhoods and finally finds the thief. The man, however, pretends to be epileptic, and upset neighbors chase Lamberto away. Desperate, the man tells his son to go home, and steals someone else’s bicycle himself. He is quickly caught, however, and an enraged mob leads him to the police station. Unexpectedly, however, a weeping Bruno appears, the sight of which moves the policeman. Humiliated in front of his son, Lamberto walks away slowly, holding the child’s hand.

“Bicycle Thieves” – the flagship of Italian neorealism

“Bicycle Thieves” is a movie that brought Vittorio De Sice international fame and became one of the most important works of Italian neorealism. The picture focuses on social issues: it shows Italy’s post-war poverty as a result of the general crisis of the state and its most important institutions. It fails both the labor office, which practically does not help citizens in their search for employment, social welfare completely indifferent to human misfortune and the police, concerned with everything except catching thieves. The deficit of trust in public institutions makes people more likely to seek help from psychics, promising their clients a miraculous change of fortune, than from the state.

One can even treat “Bicycle Thieves” as a manifesto of cinematic neorealism. This is because it is a direction focusing on the existence of ordinary people, avoiding idealization, both formal and problematic. This manifesto is brilliantly emphasized by the scene of bicycle theft, which happens exactly at the moment when the protagonist pastes a poster of Rita Hayworth advertising “Gilda.” Here we have a starkly contrasting juxtaposition of the glamour of Hollywood cinema with the sad reality. De Sica, together with his screenwriter Cesare Zavattini (a leading figure of Italian neorealism), sides with a film that is faithful to the truth and close to the problems of the common man.

Bicycle Thieves 1948 film analysis

“Bicycle Thieves” and the depravity of poverty

Lamberto’s story deeply moves the viewer not only because it is very believable, but also because the medium of the whole story is the protagonist’s son, Bruno. It is the perspective of a child of several years that makes us feel the drama unfolding on screen as an unfair orchestration of fate. Poverty appears here as a tragic situation from which there is no way out, and any activity of the characters only worsens their predicament.

“Bicycle Thieves” is certainly an indictment against the inefficiency of state organs, as well as a manifesto of the director’s leftist views. Above all, however, it is a film that discusses the myth of human ennoblement through poverty and suffering. Poverty depraves, De Sica seems to say. It takes away dignity, nullifies dreams and induces immoral acts. That’s why Lamberto is a hero worthy of compassion and giving him a helping hand. And this is exactly what we do – in the last scene we stand in solidarity with the humiliated man and, together with Bruno, take his hand.


„Kino klasyczne”, pod red. T. Lubelskiego, I. Sowińskiej i R. Syski, Kraków 2012.

A.Garbicz, J. Klinowski, „Kino, wehikuł magiczny. Przewodnik osiągnięć filmu fabularnego. Podróż pierwsza 1913 – 1949”, Kraków 2007.