Monday, January 17, 2022

#2,695. The Children Are Watching Us (1944) - Spotlight on Italy


A precursor (in theme, if not execution) to the Italian Neorealist movement, Vittorio De Sica’s The Children Are Watching Us is an effectively moving melodrama about a crumbling marriage, as seen through the eyes of the couple’s only child.

Young Prico (played superbly by Luciano De Ambrosis) is caught up in a family crisis; his mother Nina (Isa Pola) has fallen in love with Roberto (Adriano Rimoldi), a younger man, and decides to leave both her husband Andrea (Emilio Cigola) and Prico so that she can be with him.

Sent to live with his grandmother (Jone Frigerio) for a few days, Prico is soon reunited with his mother, who returned home for his sake. Though not particularly happy with the arrangement, Andrea – following the advice of their housekeeper Agnese (Giovanna Cigoli) - agrees to let Nina move back in, and it isn’t long before the couple has reconciled.

To help Nina readjust to married life, Andrea whisks her and Prico away to a beachside resort for the summer, only to find his wedded bliss once again threatened when Roberto tracks them down.

Shot during the height of World War II, several years before Roberto Rossellini kicked off the Neorealist movement with Open City, The Children Are Watching Us raised a few eyebrows with its tale of infidelity, a taboo subject under Mussolini’s fascist regime, and this alone makes it something of a curiosity.

What lifts it to a higher level is the performance of Luciano De Ambrosis, who, despite his age (he was five years old at the time), serves as the film’s main character. By his own admission, De Ambrosis was a sensitive child (his real mother had passed away just months before filming began), and he brings a heart-wrenching sincerity to the role of Prico, a boy who loves both of his parents, yet must deal with the fact that his family is falling apart before his very eyes. He is thrilled early on when his mother returns home (his tears are, in part, what causes Andrea to relent, and allow Nina to move back in), only to find himself turning on Nina while on vacation, when he spots her and Roberto frolicking on the beach (Andrea’s job forced him to return home early, leaving Prico as the only witness to his mother’s continued transgressions).

De Ambrosis handles these moments flawlessly, and it’s because of his performance that The Children Are Watching Us is more than a simple family melodrama; it is a tragedy, and we mourn for Prico. One scene in particular, late in the film, where Andrea asks Prico what happened at the resort, is heartbreaking; Prico lies to Andrea, saying he and his mother were alone, not to protect Nina, but to save Andrea himself from further heartbreak.

Though flawlessly directed by De Sica and featuring solid performances from the entire cast, it is De Ambrosis who makes The Children Are Watching Us such a poignant, unforgettable motion picture.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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