Two shoeshine boys in postwar Rome, Italy, save up to buy a horse, but their involvement as dupes in a burglary lands them in juvenile prison where the experience take a devastating toll on their friendship.
Vittorio De Sica
The film follows the anguish of the four-year-old, Prico, after his mother, Nina, leaves his father, Andrea, for her lover Roberto. Prico is sent to his aunt and then to his grandmother. Nina returns when Prico is sick and vows to give up Roberto, even though he persists in seeing her. The family situation gradually improves until they take a holiday on the Italian Riviera.Written by
Adults Behave Badly in The Children are Watching Us
Before his historical foray into neorealism Vittorio De Sica made this melodramatic tear jerker about a child witnessing the break-up of his parent's marriage in 1942 Italy. As in Shoeshine and Bicycle Thief he employs a child as the major protagonist and shoots most of the film from the boy's point of view. Prico is the only child of a comparatively well off family who along with a housekeeper dotes on him. The father, Andre holds a good job and is without vice. His mother, Nina, is also nurturing but caught up in a passionate affair with Roberto an impetuous lover whose selfish actions are all the more grotesque from Prico's vantage point. When Nina runs off with Roberto, Andreas quietly suffers the humiliation and pain in order to protect his son at any price. Eventually Nina returns and the family begins to heal together but Roberto re-enters the picture where once again Nina's role as mother and wife are challenged.
Considering the era and place (Fascist Italy) The Children are Watching Us is an audacious film for its time. What separates it from similar formulaic tepid melodramas of the period is De Sica's decision to arrange it around the child's subjective viewpoint and to have the infidelity occur with the mother. The father straying would almost be a cliché but the mother of a young child would make it absolutely scandalous. Along the way De Sica also skewers petite bourgeois hypocrisy and the idle class with a parade of nosy neighbors and lascivious vacationers.
Like most of De Sica's finer works, Children has a highly emotional ending that packs quite a wallop. Still, I must admit to a class snobbery in my clear cut preference for the underclass neo-realist works with their distressed socio-economic situation, marginal characters and their day to day survival shot amid the ruins of post war Italy. But even with all the benefits of the privileged child, Prico's painful experience is conveyed in the same stylistic subjectivity of jump cuts and revealing tracking shots that give the neorealist works their form and much of their power. They may be a rung up on the economic ladder but it does not ameliorate their tragic circumstance.
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