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The Children Are Watching Us (Criterion Collection)

Emilio Cigoli , Luciano De Ambrosis , Vittorio De Sica    Unrated   DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Amazon.ca

Vittoria De Sica's mastery of neorealism was already well apparent in 1944's The Children Are Watching Us, an excellent, emotionally devastating drama that marked De Sica's first collaboration with renowned screenwriter and longtime partner Cesare Zavattini. While not as well known as De Sica's later masterpieces The Bicycle Thief (1948) and Umberto D. (1952), the film shares many of De Sica's stylistic trademarks, beginning with his exquisite use of real Italian locations in telling the story of Pricò, an observant and inquisitive 4-year-old boy who bears silent witness to his mother's infidelity and the subsequent collapse of his parents' marriage. Like Carol Reed's thematically similar classic The Fallen Idol, De Sica's film is seen almost exclusively through the eyes and perception of this innocent young boy, and the frank treatment of adultery and its effect on Pricò was considered quite shocking for Italian audiences who were emphatically concerned with the sanctity of childhood. What seems dramatically tame by modern standards still retains much of its power, notably due to the remarkable performance of Luciano De Ambrosis, who was barely five years old when the film was shot in the summer of 1942, just before the violence of World War II would erupt all over Italy.

In combining empathy for his characters with the graceful sentimentality that would be refined in his later classics, De Sica refrains from judging the weaknesses of Pricò's parents, both of whom love the boy equally but are ill-equipped to avoid the disintegration of the relationship. This places Pricò in the middle of a gut-wrenching dilemma, and the boy responds with understandable grief and confusion. In running away, he shifts the story toward a heartbreaking conclusion, lending substance to the film's alternate title (The Little Martyr) with a final image that's simply unforgettable. Criterion's exquisite DVD release presents this potent drama in a new, fully restored high-definition digital transfer, and includes illuminating video interviews with De Ambrosis (well into his sixties, with vivid memories of working with De Sica) and De Sica film scholar Callisto Cosulich. The 24-page booklet features mini-essays by film scholar Peter Brunette (writing about The Children Are Watching Us) and film critic Stuart Klawans on the unique collaboration of De Sica and Zavattini. Considering that The Children Are Watching Us was largely unavailable in any previous film or video format, Criterion's DVD release is cause for celebration. --Jeff Shannon

Product Description

In his first collaboration with renowned screenwriter and longtime partner Cesare Zavattini, Vittoria De Sica examines the cataclysmic consequences of adult folly on an innocent child. Heralding the pair's subsequent work on some of the masterpieces of Italian neorealism, The Children Are Watching Us is a deeply humane, vivid portrait of one family's disintegration.

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5.0 out of 5 stars ' Children' is heart breaking and realistic. Aug. 12 2001
Format:VHS Tape
THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US was my official introduction to neo-realistic filmmaking and to Vittorio De Sica. After having seen this film i just could not get over how tragic and realistic it was. The story is about a couple and their little boy who seem to live a peaceful existence but the boy knows that his mother is having an affair. Soon after she abandons the family. This causes the father and especially the boy much grief. The father is unable to care for the boy so he sends him to other family members. The boy begins to suffer internally until finally his mother decides to come back and the father reluctantly decides to accept her. The boy is happy once again but the mother's ex lover will not leave her alone and once again tries to make her leave her family for him. Soon after sad consequences follow and an ending which will make you cry enough to supply water for the world population. It is very well directed, acted, and written but it is also at times hard to take because it is so painfully realistic and also because all these tragic things are happening to an innocent child. The black and white color and photography give it in some parts a semi-documentery feel and authentic locations are used in this movie. Most of the story is seen from the child's point of view so it will affect anyone who has gone through similar situations. I could understand the child's grief so it was especially moving for me. The movie is undeniably well made but is not really the kind of movie where you plan to have repeat viewings.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Children Are Claiming Our Love July 30 2000
Format:VHS Tape
This film can be considered as the prelude to the great season of the neo-realism. It shows, through the innocent eyes of the young Prico, the drama of a well-to-do family in the provincial Italy of the forties. De Sica is able to depict the delicate balance of a family whose focus is the child for whom the parents, Dina and Andrea, seem ready to accept the compromise of an empty marriage without passion. Dina is divided between her role as an affectionate mother who loves her child above all and her own choice as a woman who claims her right to be happy, no matter who will pay the price for her egotism. Andrea is ready to forgive in the desperate attempt to reconstruct what is irreparably broken. The whole story is developed through the uneasiness of the young Prico who suffers from divided loyalties: he does not want to destroy his illusion of happiness under cover of the silent acceptance of his mother's deceit. This drama, with tragic tones, marks the beginning of De Sica's journey into the complex universe of childhood. He deepens the theme in 'Sciuscià' and 'The Bicycle Thief'. In these last two films the setting is shifted from the private world to the public one, where people no longer have a Greek Chorus-like role, but they are actors whose stories are linked with the story of the main characters. All of these three films share children's desperate demand for love. It can have the shape of an escape from an unbearable situation, as in 'Children Are Watching Us', or the dream-like framework of a white horse, as in 'Sciuscià', or turn a child into a silent angel, as in 'The Bicycle Thief', where the son is ready to help the father, involuntary victim of society. Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ' Children' is heart breaking and realistic. Aug. 12 2001
By "infinitemovies" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US was my official introduction to neo-realistic filmmaking and to Vittorio De Sica. After having seen this film i just could not get over how tragic and realistic it was. The story is about a couple and their little boy who seem to live a peaceful existence but the boy knows that his mother is having an affair. Soon after she abandons the family. This causes the father and especially the boy much grief. The father is unable to care for the boy so he sends him to other family members. The boy begins to suffer internally until finally his mother decides to come back and the father reluctantly decides to accept her. The boy is happy once again but the mother's ex lover will not leave her alone and once again tries to make her leave her family for him. Soon after sad consequences follow and an ending which will make you cry enough to supply water for the world population. It is very well directed, acted, and written but it is also at times hard to take because it is so painfully realistic and also because all these tragic things are happening to an innocent child. The black and white color and photography give it in some parts a semi-documentery feel and authentic locations are used in this movie. Most of the story is seen from the child's point of view so it will affect anyone who has gone through similar situations. I could understand the child's grief so it was especially moving for me. The movie is undeniably well made but is not really the kind of movie where you plan to have repeat viewings.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Children Are Claiming Our Love July 30 2000
By Vincenza Leone - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
This film can be considered as the prelude to the great season of the neo-realism. It shows, through the innocent eyes of the young Prico, the drama of a well-to-do family in the provincial Italy of the forties. De Sica is able to depict the delicate balance of a family whose focus is the child for whom the parents, Dina and Andrea, seem ready to accept the compromise of an empty marriage without passion. Dina is divided between her role as an affectionate mother who loves her child above all and her own choice as a woman who claims her right to be happy, no matter who will pay the price for her egotism. Andrea is ready to forgive in the desperate attempt to reconstruct what is irreparably broken. The whole story is developed through the uneasiness of the young Prico who suffers from divided loyalties: he does not want to destroy his illusion of happiness under cover of the silent acceptance of his mother's deceit. This drama, with tragic tones, marks the beginning of De Sica's journey into the complex universe of childhood. He deepens the theme in `Sciuscià' and `The Bicycle Thief'. In these last two films the setting is shifted from the private world to the public one, where people no longer have a Greek Chorus-like role, but they are actors whose stories are linked with the story of the main characters. All of these three films share children's desperate demand for love. It can have the shape of an escape from an unbearable situation, as in `Children Are Watching Us', or the dream-like framework of a white horse, as in `Sciuscià', or turn a child into a silent angel, as in `The Bicycle Thief', where the son is ready to help the father, involuntary victim of society. I find particularly enlightening the speech by the counsel for the defense during the trial in `Sciuscià'. He says that the men, following their own passions, let childhood go on its own; that children are lonely, always lonelier. `The Children Are Watching Us' is a moving film that cannot be missed by people with a poetic heart and boundless love for childhood.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A forgotten classic worth discovering Aug. 6 2006
By Trevor Willsmer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
The Children Are Watching Us is for my money a better film than Bicycle Thieves - the unforgiving ending is certainly much harder hitting. Set in the last great summer of Fascist Italy, much of it intriguingly takes place in a Rome and a coastal resort that don't even notice there's a war going on: no shortages, no bomb damage, not even a single army uniform in sight, which in a way gives it a more timeless quality - even the apartment blocks its middle class characters live in can still be found all over Italy. The story is a simple one, with a child caught in the middle of his parents dissolving marriage and finding his loyalties torn as his weak-willed mother constantly returns to her lover, but it's told with a surprising degree of naturalism. It also takes on an extra dimension with the knowledge that De Sica was himself having an affair when he was making it. Very impressive.

The film is beautifully restored and while the extras aren't plentiful - recent interviews with child star Luciano De Ambrosis and critic Callisto Cosulich and a booklet - they make up for in it terms of quality.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars deeply moving movie Aug. 17 2007
By Stanley K. Wong - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
I won't go into much detail.
It was shot very well. I loved the movie. It moved me and was a heartbreaking situation.
The end was simply stunning. This is about as perfect a masterpiece you can ever watch if you don't mind subtitles.
I highly recommend it...it will stay with you forever in your memory!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Hard to Conceive ... Oct. 31 2011
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
... 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.
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