top of page

(Film Review) Ladri Di Biciclette / The Bicycle Thieves (1948)

De Sica’s ‘The Bicycle Thieves’ is a poetic story of personal struggle and tragedy that follows the journey of Antonio and his son Bruno, as they try to remedy their misfortune. The story begins with Antonio obtaining a great job after being unemployed for an extended amount of time in post war Rome. The issue of not having a bicycle, which is required for the job, is quickly resolved when his wife Maria pawns their good bed linens in exchange for Antonio’s bicycle. Antonio has a renewed vigour and happily begins his first day of work.

His good fortune is short lived however when a thief steals his bicycle whilst on the job. Antonio is devastated and enlists the help of his son Bruno over the coming day, to help find his bike or the thief who stole it. After enduring one dead end after another, Antonio’s desperation escalates and he resorts to an attempt to steal a bicycle himself.

De Sica utilises the suburban landscape of the film to its greatest potential. The small homes and overcrowded pawnshop and church deliver a sense of profound poverty and hardship in a city that has been devastated by war. These sequences are juxtaposed with the more familiar neorealist landscapes of wide-open spaces of market places and streets 1. These images illustrate the monumental challenge that Antonio and Bruno must embark on if Antonio is to keep his job, intensifying the unlikelihood that they will succeed in their search. When Antonio finally resorts to stealing a bicycle for himself, a crowd of people quickly overtakes the open city square, enforcing a claustrophobic atmosphere and the understanding by the audience that there is no resolution possible for Antonio.

Furthermore, the landscape is used to emphasise the relationship between Bruno and his father. Bruno is often close to his father’s side, often looking up at him with respect and admiration. Even in De Sica’s wider shots of a vast landscape, the unity of these two characters is always the point of focus. However, when Antonio loses his temper with Bruno and hits him, the two characters are shown in a wide shot with a vast space between them. This truly accentuates the breakdown of Bruno’s respect for his father and creates an uncomfortable distance between these normally close characters.

This pivotal scene of the everyday Italian life 2 coupled with the complexity of circumstance and “refusal” to make easy “moral judgements” 1, is indicative of the Italian Neorealist film. This same convention is evident later when Antonio struggles with his decision to steal a bicycle and it is difficult for the audience not to sympathise with him when he is caught.

Another commonality with many Italian neorealist films, yet not necessarily a formal convention, is De Sica’s use of over-dramatic music throughout the film. This is most notable in the beginning of the story, before Antonio’s bicycle is stolen. The music is incredibly sad and emotional when Maria and Antonio take their bed linens to the pawnshop. Though this sequence plays to the convention of illustrating the everyday, it is the music that brings an elevated sadness to the hearts of the audience and results in them being incredibly saddened by this simple act.

What is strange about De Sica’s use of music, is this same saddening soundtrack is also used in the happier scenes, such as that in which Antonio collects his uniform and merrily brings it to Maria. Perhaps this is to clue the audience in, that this is not a joyous film and that the future for this family is bleak despite this seemingly joyful event.

In conclusion, Di Sica’s ‘The Bicycle Thieves’ is a hauntingly poignant film that successfully utilises the neorealist conventions of landscape, score, lack of moral judgement and the narrative of everyday.


1 WEB: CineCollage, (2012-2016), Italian Neorealism;

2 WEB: Carr, Jeremy, (year unknown), Studies in Cinema: Thoughts on Italian Neorealism;

Recent Posts
bottom of page