... how this film could have been produced in Italy in 1942! There was a war going on, remember? Okay, so the war hadn't turned disastrous for Italy yet, But Mussolini was in power, censorship of the film industry was overwhelming even without Fascism, and the cinema industry had never yet failed to cater to the socially conservative taste of Italian audiences. Vittorio de Sica had starred in dozens of sappily sentimental romances. Yet this film was in effect the first expression of 'neorealism' in European cinema. With its scathing portrayal of shallow bourgeoise society, its subtle suggestion of class conflict, its scenes of adultery and its uncompromisingly tragic ending, surely "The Children Are Watching Us" would have shocked Italian audiences out of their theater seats. But it was barely finished by the time the war went wildly against Italy, and it was seen by few, nearly lost in the mayhem. De Sica went much farther in the direction of 'neorealism' in the aftermath of the war, with his "Shoeshine" in 1946 and his classic "Bicycle Thieves" in 1948.
"The Children Are Watching Us" is appropriately named. The film is subtly structured from the viewpoint of a little boy whose mother deserts him and his meticulous but unromantic father for a slick lover-boy. There's not a flicker of war or politics in the boy's perceptions, nor thus in the film, and that of course is amazing in itself, given when and where the film was made. The purity of the film's focus on the boy and the boy's perceptions is as clear as the black-and-white cinematography. For a film produced, perhaps with some secrecy, in a studio, the vividness of its images of Italy makes "The Children" a travelogue in time. One could turn off the sound and subtitles and still be entranced by the photography. Luckily for us, this film has been stunningly restored; the film and sound quality are better than most of the prints of Italian classics two decades newer. And, for those who want to relish the script in its proper language, the subtitles can be turned off. There are subtleties of dialect and characterization in the dialogue that are lost in translation.
From de Sica and Lucchino Visconti to Federico Fellini, for the decade beginning in the middle of World War 2, the Italian cinema industry led the world in creativity, honesty, and artistry. You'll have to see this film yourselves to appreciate how skillfully made it is.