Bicycle Thieves Analysis

5 May 2016

One of the most groundbreaking movements in global cinema history was Italian Neo-realism. Coming after the devastating Second World War, Italian Neo-Realism aims to magnify the troubles of the working class in a crumbled Europe for the world to see on the silver screen.

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Neo-Realist films tend to star non-professional actors, use real locations as backdrops along with real people as extras, and usually have children playing major roles in the film. This movement aimed to emphasize the importance of change in society by representing the poor.

A great example of Italian Neo-Realism is Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948). The film centers on Ricci, who struggles to find his stolen bike amongst the ruined streets of post-war Rome with his son, Bruno.

It is easy to see in Italian Neo-Realist movies that the relationship between the characters and their homeland, like Ricci and Rome, are at odds with one another and could very well be described as a crisis. Bicycle Thieves clearly represents the relationship between Ricci and Rome as a crisis by constantly showing the struggles of its people during the aftermath of World War II in the mise en scene.

In the beginning of the film, Ricci is called upon because he has been selected for a government job. As he accepts the job in front of a crowd of angry, unemployed men, De Sica shows the audience how brilliant of a director he is when it comes to Italian Neo-realism and demonstrating the relationship between Ricci and Rome.

This sequence is full of medium close ups and medium shots of Ricci, the bystanders, and the government official who is giving him the job. As you can see in Image 1, there is no artificial lighting.

One can see the shadows of the men, thus, one can conclude there are no fill lights. Also, this sequence is a good example of diegetic sound as the scene is full of the noises of the city of Rome. You can hear cars pass on by, people shouting in the streets, and the sounds of frustration from the angry bystanders witnessing Ricci accept the job.

The beginning of the film is also a good example of a shot reverse shot, as the camera switches between Ricci, the government official, and the bystanders as they discuss the need for a bicycle to do the job, which Ricci
does not have at the moment.

These shot reverse shots shows the audience how all three parties are reacting during this sequence in the film as it allows for multiple parties to voice their opinions. During this sequence the bystanders only attack the government official and not Ricci, which shows how frustrated they are with the city of Rome. Obviously, this is a reflection of the relationship of the citizens and struggles they live through in Rome.

In Image 1, the shot is from the perspective of the government official, which is called a point of view shot. The angle at which the image is shot from is called a high angle, which makes Ricci and the other unemployed citizens look inferior to the government official and the government of Italy in general.

This supports the idea that the relationship between Ricci and his homeland is indeed a crisis in the way that he and his peers must rely on the government for work and survival.

As one looks deeper into the mise en scene of Image 1, one can see that the depth of field is indeed deep. All the expressions on the faces of the bystanders can be seen clearly. No one looks happy. Some of them have the sun in their eyes.

Some look angry that they have not been chosen for the job, while others look depressed that they must depend on their government in order to put food on the table for their families. One shocking part of this scene is the fact there are teenagers in the crowd looking for work.

Also, along with the expressions on their faces, one can see that no one in the crowd is dressed nicely. They are all dressed in rags and dirty clothes. De Sica does this on purpose to show that all of the people there are from the working class. Another thing to note is that De Sica never tells the audience why or how Ricci got the job, thus, the audience is forced to be confused and feel sympathy for the bystanders, whom unfortunately are still unemployed.

This scene is a great example of Italian Neo-Realism because it shows how the Italian government oppresses the working class after losing the greatest war in history. The film’s backdrop is 1948 Rome, which consists of rubble, broken down buildings, and civilians searching for work and struggling to make a living. This can be seen in Image.

2. This sequence happens after Ricci accepts the job from the government and tells his wife. However, in order to do the job Ricci need a bicycle. With his bicycle in the shop and no money to pay for the repair, he and his wife struggle to come up with a solution.

In Image 2, one can see how the characters react to this problem and how Rome offers no help. This scene is viewed from a medium shot similar to Image 1, that being from the waist up. It is also similar to the previous sequences in that it uses only natural lighting and no fill lights as seen by the shadow of Ricci’s wife on the wooden pole behind them. There is both diegetic and non-diegetic sounds in this sequence.

The diegetic sounds are those of the cars passing by and the people on the street. The non-diegetic sound is the poignant music playing over all of this. Obviously, Ricci and his wife are not listening to this music as they discuss the job he was offered and how they will pay for the bicycle. Regardless, the sad theme of the non-diegetic music does not give hope to the viewer. Image 2 is a good example of gaze, which is how the characters look at one another or where their eye line is aimed.

Ricci’s wife is looking at him with worry in her eyes, while Ricci is looking down at the job letter he just received. This is a moving image in the film as it describes the relationship between the characters and the city of Rome.

Image 2 displays Ricci and his wife both looking helpless in their homeland. Rome has given him a job that he can’t do because the does not have a bicycle. The government will not lend him one nor will they let him do the job without a bicycle until he can pay for one himself.

Thus, this supports De Sica’s goal of showing that Ricci and Rome are at odds with one another. The depth of field in this image is just as deep as it is in Image 1. The viewer is able to see the backdrop with great detail. This backdrop, which is a random street in Rome, demonstrates the struggle the citizens are going through in post-war Italy.

There is a barbed wire fence behind Ricci that is enclosing a tarp-covered area where someone or a family is probably living. In the back there is a laundry line hanging from an old, war-torn building. Below the building is an abandon structure, which is full of random products that have been thrown out.

To add to all of that, the street is full of rubble from the war, which shows the audience that no cars or traffic can get through. Thus, the infrastructure of the city is absent and Rome itself is n a crisis. De Sica decided to put all of these things into the mise en scene in this sequence because it demonstrates how awful life was in Italy during the aftermath of World War II.

Vittorio De Sica does a great job in Bicycle Thieves illustrating the relationship between the characters and Rome as a crisis by showing the rubble in the streets and the struggles of the citizens in post-war Italy. To be more specific to the story, Ricci struggles to find help in his home city. No one offers to help him.

The police do not even lend him their aid. This shows how helpless a man is in post-war Rome. De Sica uses a deep depth of field to show every detail of the everyday struggles of Ricci and the citizens of Rome. He mixes the diegetic sounds of the city with the non-diegetic, poignant music to fully engulf the audience in the reality of the film. His use of natural lighting, which allows for shadows to be seen, helps make the mise en scene more real to the viewer. In the end, Ricci attempts to steal a bicycle, but is caught in the act.

This illustrates how the helplessness Ricci feels in Rome has caused him to become a thief. This is ironic because it was a thief who caused Ricci to be in this crisis in the first place. De Sica does this to show that the relationship between Rome and its citizens is indeed a crisis for it causes its people to become something they are not through desperation and helplessness.


Bicycle Thieves. Dir. Vittorio De Sica. Perf. Lamberto Maggiorani. Produzioni De Sica, 1948. DVD.

Overbey, David. “8.” Springtime in Italy: A Reader on Neo-
realism. London: Talisman, 1978. N. pag. Print.

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