A landmark of humanist filmmaking, Bicycle Thieves was a key work in the 1940s film movement known as Italian neo-realism. Set in post-war Rome, it follows the misfortunes of down-on-his-luck Antonio (played by Lamberto Maggiorani) and his young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola). Over the course of the day they embark on a fruitless hunt for the father’s stolen bike, which he desperately needs to work and support the family.
Along with the wartime trilogy that Roberto Rossellini began with Rome: Open City (1945), it heralded a new kind of cinematic naturalism, employing non-professionals as actors and taking the camera out onto the streets to faithfully record the social realities of a Europe struggling to get back on its feet after WWII. For all its vivid documentation of a downtrodden Rome, it is as a universal tale of human striving that De Sica’s film has proved influential. In 1952 Bicycle Thieves topped Sight & Sound’s inaugural greatest films poll and remains a favourite among both critics and audiences today.