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
THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US (Vittorio De Sica, 1944) ***
De Sica's first Neo-Realist film had been neglected over the years and, so, it was a surprise to see it being added to "The Criterion Collection". Ultimately, it's not up to his later more celebrated quartet - SHOESHINE (1946), THE BICYCLE THIEF (1948), MIRACLE IN MILAN (1951) and UMBERTO D (1952) - but, taken on its own modest merits, it's a reasonably effective work coming from an actor best-known for light fare!
As indicated by the title, the narrative is seen through the eyes of the sensitive young son of a working-class couple; the mother is having an affair and the boy is witness to - and the victim of - the inevitable disintegrating family ties, being bounced around from the household of one begrudging relative to another. The couple make a determined effort to stay together for the sake of the child (having to contend, besides, with the nosy and gossiping tenants of their condominium) - but the impetuous young man who has come between man and wife won't give her up so easily, and he finally manages to tear her from them for good. In desperation, the husband commits suicide…
The plot is pretty melodramatic and the film is infused with a good deal of sentimentality (there are plenty of close-ups of the boy weeping his heart out, for instance); clearly, De Sica's hand isn't confident as yet in juggling the various elements that comprise such slices-of-life - for one thing, he has used actors rather than the non-professionals who would come to serve him in good stead in his subsequent Neo-Realist classics. Even so, the three leading performances are undeniably excellent...while the film's real coup is to be found in its devastating - and truly uncompromising - conclusion.
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