A film so adored it was given an honourary Oscar in 1950 because the Best Foreign Film category didn’t yet exist – while critics at Sight & Sound waited just four years after its 1948 release before naming Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thieves the greatest film ever made. (Yet, 50 years later, they gave it just five votes.)
So what are we to make of it? Usually taken as the definition of Italian neo-realism, De Sica’s film in fact styles non-actors, long takes and location shoots into what mega-critic André Bazin called the perfect aesthetic illusion of reality. The story is simple: destitute everyman Lamberto Maggiorani and his little son (Enzo Staiola) search desperately for a stolen bicycle in post-war Rome’s Kafka-esque street-maze. But the lasting soul of Thieves’ pure cinema poverty-parable finally nestles in its deeply affecting father-son pairing in which seven-year-old Staiola dazzles as one of cinema’s wonder-kids.