A Jewish-Italian bookstore owner and the protagonist of the film. After he marries Dora, they have a son, Giosue. He has a way of making seemingly magical things happen by manipulating his surroundings. When he is taken to a concentration camp with Dora and Giosue, he tries to encourage them with his antics and machinations, and he eventually sacrifices his life to save his son.
Guido and Dora's son. After Guido and Giosue are taken to the concentration camp, Guido convinces Giosue that they are both participants in a giant game and that the winner will receive a real tank. Giosue is occasionally skeptical of his father's fantastic ideas, but he generally takes great joy in the magical world that Guido creates for him.
Guido's uncle. Eliseo finds Guido a job as a waiter when he first arrives in the city. He is the target of Nazi aggression throughout the film, and he eventually is gassed in the concentration camp.
Guido's friend. Ferruccio moves to the city with Guido, teaches him the Schopenhauer Method, and accompanies Guido on many of his adventures.
A staid woman, Dora's mother does not want her to marry Guido, and the two fall out of touch for many years. Finally, Dora's mother approaches Giosue in the bookstore, and mother and daughter are reunited.
One of Guido's regular patrons at the restaurant. Doctor Lessing is a lover of riddles, and he finds Guido's particular facility with them astonishing. He becomes a doctor in the concentration camp but does not help Guido's family escape despite his longstanding friendship with Guido.
An uptight woman who is shocked when Guido arrives to lecture her charges on the superiority of the Aryan race. She later reveals her racism at Dora's engagement dinner.
People and circumstances rarely go the way we want them to. Bad things happen like war. Despite the upbeat beginning, Guido begins to be harassed by the Fascists. Soon he, Eliseo, and Giosue are taken away on a train to a concentration camp.