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Lamberto Maggiorani plays the lead character of Antonio. Lamberto was not an actor, but was chosen by Vittoria De Sica, the director of the film because he had the kind of face he wanted for this film. He plays Antonio with both great sadness, worry and for a time we are able to see his hope and joy. De Sica said that non-actors were like blank canvases that could do anything he asked. Lamberto certainly showcases this in his first acting role.
Enzo Staiola plays Bruno. Staiola, who was not an actor, has said that he remembers seeing a car following him around after school and he ran away from it because Rome was dangerous at the time, in the sense that kids were being kidnapped. It turns out that it was De Sica, the director of The Bicycle Thieves, following him. De Sica set up auditions shortly after this right outside of where Staiola lived. He had seen 5,000 kids all over Italy for the role, and as soon as Enzo showed up at the audition (set up to specifically find him), De Sica said, “He’s the one.” And, without ever having to audition for the part, Enzo received the role. It is said that De Sica’s great talent was for picking the right people for roles, and it shows on screen.
Lianella Carell made her acting debut in this film, as did the other main cast members. Lianella gives Maria a strength and a hope that is structurally the foundation of the family we see. She has an endurance and a faith that we see in her actions. We also see the way she loves and desires her husband in the charming kitchen scene after she has sewn his hat to fit him. Most important we see in her eyes the great depth of feeling that she has as Maria, and the fear and understanding of being poverty stricken in post-war Italy.
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Bicycle Thieves (also called The Bicycle Thief) study guide contains a biography of director Vittorio De Sica, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.