The Children are Watching Us


1h 24m 1944
The Children are Watching Us

Brief Synopsis

A child's world collapses when his mother runs off with her lover.

Film Details

Also Known As
Bambini Ci Guardano, Children Are Watching Us, The, I bambini ci guardano, Katigoro tous goneis mou, Les enfants nous regardent, Little Martyr
Genre
Drama
Political
Foreign
Release Date
1944

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 24m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

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.

Film Details

Also Known As
Bambini Ci Guardano, Children Are Watching Us, The, I bambini ci guardano, Katigoro tous goneis mou, Les enfants nous regardent, Little Martyr
Genre
Drama
Political
Foreign
Release Date
1944

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 24m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

The Children Are Watching Us - THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US


General consensus usually names Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City (1946), a stark depiction of the Italian anti-fascist resistance, as the first true neorealist film. But Rossellini's work did not spring forth from a vacuum, and many acknowledge as forerunners of that cinematic movement both Ossessione (1943), Luchino Visconti's adaptation of James M. Cain's novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (filmed previously in France in 1939 and in the U.S. in 1946 and 1981) and The Children Are Watching Us (Italian title I bambini ci guardano, 1942). The influence of The Children Are Watching Us is evident in its use of some lesser known actors rather than glamorous stars, on-location shooting rather than studio-controlled sets, and most of all the story - the break-up of a family from the adulterous wife leaving to the husband committing suicide, all seen through the eyes of their child. Unhappy children, failed marriages, and most especially suicide (considered a failing of corrupt society), were themes and plotlines that went totally against the grain of Fascist philosophy and propaganda, and therefore formed something of an early cinematic resistance. In fact, at the time of its release, its director, Vittorio De Sica, was asked to go to Venice to head up the official Fascist film school. When he refused, the movie came out without his name attached. On the other hand, the film is largely confined to the conventional production methods and style of the pre-war period, which goes against the grain of neorealist purism. But whether The Children Are Watching Us can be called a true example of neorealism is less important than its undoubted place as a notable film in the transition from early Italian cinema to the works that burst upon the world scene with such impact in the post-war years. And it is a significant step in the career of De Sica, one of Italy's most prominent film figures and director of what is perhaps the best-known neorealist movie of all time, The Bicycle Thief/Ladri di biciclette (1948).

De Sica began his career as an actor in a 1917 silent picture while still a teenager. By the late 1920s, he was a successful matinee idol on stage, a suave leading man in mostly light movie comedies, and a favorite of female filmgoers. He began directing pictures in 1939, but although his first four features were successful, his individual style and artistry really emerged with this film. It was the first of his directorial efforts in which he did not appear. It also marks his first collaboration with novelist-screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, with whom he would make 25 films over the next 30 years, including The Bicycle Thief, Umberto D. (1952), and Two Women (1961), which won an Oscar for Sophia Loren. Together, they crafted from the novel by Cesare Giulio Viola, Prico (the name of the central child in The Children Are Watching Us), a story that reflected for the first time a theme common to many of De Sica's films, the suffering and destruction of young children. "Children are the first to suffer in life. Innocents always pay," De Sica said in an interview with Charles Thomas Samuels for the book Encountering Directors (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972). He also told Samuels this film, like all his others, is about the search for human solidarity, however fleeting in a world where "human incommunicability is eternal."

The debate over who is most responsible for neorealism will likely never be settled because all the artists involved - directors (among them Rossellini and Visconti), writers (Sergio Amidei and Cesare Zavattini), actors (such as Anna Magnani), and technical crews - worked in a fertile atmosphere of great historical, political, and cultural change. Their ideas and approaches influenced each other and many of them, particularly Zavattini and other writers who did so much to shape the post-war Italian film aesthetic, worked together and on each other's movies (the music composer of this film was Rossellini's brother).

Even though The Children Are Watching Us is not usually considered neorealism "proper," it is often lumped in with that school not only because it bears De Sica's and Zavattini's names but because it wasn't released in the U.S. and other countries beyond Italy until after World War II, when truly neorealist works such as De Sica's Shoeshine (1946) and Rossellini's Paisan (1946) were startling international audiences with a first glimpse of this influential style. The impact of these films in America has been noted in movies as diverse as The Naked City (1948), which tells an urban crime story in semi-documentary style, and Marty (1955), with its attempt to depict the lives of "little people" in gritty detail using unglamorous non-stars. But those elements alone are not necessarily what De Sica and others of his ilk were after in their films of the 1940s.

"People think that neorealism means exterior shooting, but they are wrong," De Sica told Samuels. "Most films today are made in a realistic style, but they are actually opposed to neorealism, to that revolution in cinematic language which we started and which they think to follow. It is not reality. It is reality filtered through poetry, reality transfigured."

Director: Vittorio De Sica
Producer: Franco Magli
Screenplay: Vittorio De Sica, Cesare Zavattini, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi, Margherita Maglione, from the novel by Cesare Giulio Viola
Cinematography: Giuseppe Caracciolo
Editing: Mario Bonotti
Set Decoration: Vittorio Valentini
Original Music: Renzo Rossellini
Cast: Luciano De Ambrosis (Prico), Emilio Cigoli (Andrea), Isa Pola (Nina), Adriano Rimoldi (Roberto), Jone Frigerio (Grandmother), Giovanna Cigoli (Agnese), Maria Gardena (Signora Uberti).
BW-80m.

by Rob Nixon
The Children Are Watching Us - The Children Are Watching Us

The Children Are Watching Us - THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US

General consensus usually names Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City (1946), a stark depiction of the Italian anti-fascist resistance, as the first true neorealist film. But Rossellini's work did not spring forth from a vacuum, and many acknowledge as forerunners of that cinematic movement both Ossessione (1943), Luchino Visconti's adaptation of James M. Cain's novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (filmed previously in France in 1939 and in the U.S. in 1946 and 1981) and The Children Are Watching Us (Italian title I bambini ci guardano, 1942). The influence of The Children Are Watching Us is evident in its use of some lesser known actors rather than glamorous stars, on-location shooting rather than studio-controlled sets, and most of all the story - the break-up of a family from the adulterous wife leaving to the husband committing suicide, all seen through the eyes of their child. Unhappy children, failed marriages, and most especially suicide (considered a failing of corrupt society), were themes and plotlines that went totally against the grain of Fascist philosophy and propaganda, and therefore formed something of an early cinematic resistance. In fact, at the time of its release, its director, Vittorio De Sica, was asked to go to Venice to head up the official Fascist film school. When he refused, the movie came out without his name attached. On the other hand, the film is largely confined to the conventional production methods and style of the pre-war period, which goes against the grain of neorealist purism. But whether The Children Are Watching Us can be called a true example of neorealism is less important than its undoubted place as a notable film in the transition from early Italian cinema to the works that burst upon the world scene with such impact in the post-war years. And it is a significant step in the career of De Sica, one of Italy's most prominent film figures and director of what is perhaps the best-known neorealist movie of all time, The Bicycle Thief/Ladri di biciclette (1948). De Sica began his career as an actor in a 1917 silent picture while still a teenager. By the late 1920s, he was a successful matinee idol on stage, a suave leading man in mostly light movie comedies, and a favorite of female filmgoers. He began directing pictures in 1939, but although his first four features were successful, his individual style and artistry really emerged with this film. It was the first of his directorial efforts in which he did not appear. It also marks his first collaboration with novelist-screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, with whom he would make 25 films over the next 30 years, including The Bicycle Thief, Umberto D. (1952), and Two Women (1961), which won an Oscar for Sophia Loren. Together, they crafted from the novel by Cesare Giulio Viola, Prico (the name of the central child in The Children Are Watching Us), a story that reflected for the first time a theme common to many of De Sica's films, the suffering and destruction of young children. "Children are the first to suffer in life. Innocents always pay," De Sica said in an interview with Charles Thomas Samuels for the book Encountering Directors (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972). He also told Samuels this film, like all his others, is about the search for human solidarity, however fleeting in a world where "human incommunicability is eternal." The debate over who is most responsible for neorealism will likely never be settled because all the artists involved - directors (among them Rossellini and Visconti), writers (Sergio Amidei and Cesare Zavattini), actors (such as Anna Magnani), and technical crews - worked in a fertile atmosphere of great historical, political, and cultural change. Their ideas and approaches influenced each other and many of them, particularly Zavattini and other writers who did so much to shape the post-war Italian film aesthetic, worked together and on each other's movies (the music composer of this film was Rossellini's brother). Even though The Children Are Watching Us is not usually considered neorealism "proper," it is often lumped in with that school not only because it bears De Sica's and Zavattini's names but because it wasn't released in the U.S. and other countries beyond Italy until after World War II, when truly neorealist works such as De Sica's Shoeshine (1946) and Rossellini's Paisan (1946) were startling international audiences with a first glimpse of this influential style. The impact of these films in America has been noted in movies as diverse as The Naked City (1948), which tells an urban crime story in semi-documentary style, and Marty (1955), with its attempt to depict the lives of "little people" in gritty detail using unglamorous non-stars. But those elements alone are not necessarily what De Sica and others of his ilk were after in their films of the 1940s. "People think that neorealism means exterior shooting, but they are wrong," De Sica told Samuels. "Most films today are made in a realistic style, but they are actually opposed to neorealism, to that revolution in cinematic language which we started and which they think to follow. It is not reality. It is reality filtered through poetry, reality transfigured." Director: Vittorio De Sica Producer: Franco Magli Screenplay: Vittorio De Sica, Cesare Zavattini, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi, Margherita Maglione, from the novel by Cesare Giulio Viola Cinematography: Giuseppe Caracciolo Editing: Mario Bonotti Set Decoration: Vittorio Valentini Original Music: Renzo Rossellini Cast: Luciano De Ambrosis (Prico), Emilio Cigoli (Andrea), Isa Pola (Nina), Adriano Rimoldi (Roberto), Jone Frigerio (Grandmother), Giovanna Cigoli (Agnese), Maria Gardena (Signora Uberti). BW-80m. by Rob Nixon

Vittorio De Sica's The Children Are Watching Us on DVD


Roberto Rossellini's Roma, Citta Aperta (Rome, Open City, 1945) is generally acknowledged as the film that ushered in the neorealism movement and set the tone and style for the postwar Italian films that followed. But the roots of neorealism can be traced back to Luchino Visconti's Ossessione (1943) and Vittorio De Sica's The Children Are Watching Us (1944, I bambini ci guardano), both of which were filmed in 1942 but encountered distribution problems upon their release in the fall of 1942 when the war finally came to Italy and the bombings began. Ossessione was also the victim of Fascist censorship which reduced the film to less than half of its original running time and for years it was denied distribution in the U.S. due to an infringement of copyright (it was an uncredited adaptation of the James M. Cain novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice). The Children Are Watching Us didn't fare any better during its limited release and for years it was a difficult film to see in its original form, even in its own country.

The De Sica film, now available on DVD from The Criterion Collection, is especially significant because it marked the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between the director and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini. A popular stage and film actor, De Sica began directing movies in 1940 but his early efforts were lightweight affairs, typical of the commercial Italian films of its day. With The Children Are Watching Us, De Sica and Zavattini began to create a new kind of cinema, one which explored the human condition using real locations and lesser known actors and non-professionals. A simple melodrama on the surface, The Children Are Watching Us tells the story of a failed marriage through the eyes of the couple's only child, Prico (Luciano De Ambrosis). When the story opens, Nina (Isa Pola) takes her young son to the park where she has a rendezvous with her lover Roberto (Adriano Rimoldi). Shortly thereafter she runs away with him, abandoning Prico and husband Andrea (Emilio Cigoli). Prico's humiliated father, who is unable to care for his son while working, is forced to shuttle him from an uncaring aunt to a nagging grandmother and finally a boarding school. Then Nina returns to her family, guilt-stricken and full of remorse, and Andrea agrees to take her back for the sake of the boy. For awhile, they attempt to be the family they once were and even take a holiday trip to the beach. But Roberto re-enters the scene and Nina is unable to contain her desire for him. [SPOILER ALERT] The story comes to a tragic end with Andrea committing suicide over his failure as a father and husband and Prico rejecting his weak mother and returning to boarding school after a harsh final reunion.

For Italian audiences at the time, The Children Are Watching Us was a clear departure from other melodramas due to its frank treatment of adult subject matter (infidelity) and its emotional realism; some scenes were, in fact, quite jarring to moviegoers such as the moment when Nina's lover enters the family's apartment and berates her in front of her son or Andrea's desperate final act (the suicide happens off-camera). Not surprisingly, The Children Are Watching Us ran into censorship problems with the Fascist regime controlling the state cinema since its depiction of unfaithful mothers, suicidal fathers and unhappy children reflected badly on Italian society and went against the tenets of Fascist philosophy. De Sica's name was removed from the original credits by the fascist film board as punishment for failure to uphold the dictates of the Mussolini government; they were later re-instated. But the film's focus on lost innocence and the suffering of children was a theme that De Sica and Zavattini would return to again and again in such films as Shoeshine (1946) and The Bicycle Thief (1948). "Children are the first to suffer in life," De Sica once said, "Innocents always pay."

Despite the use of some interior studio sets, the beginnings of neorealism style can be observed throughout The Children Are Watching Us in De Sica's choice of outdoor settings and real locations with nonprofessionals. The scene where an overcrowded tram stops on a street in Rome to deposit and take on additional passengers is a telling snapshot of its era, vivid with documentary detail, and the seaside sequence with middle-class Italians on holiday works as both a social critique of class structure and an evocative carefree moment in time before the nation felt the full impact of World War II. De Sica's casting of lesser known actors and novices in key roles also marked the beginning of a movement away from star driven vehicles and glamorized characters. Luciano De Ambrosis, who plays Prico in the film, was discovered by De Sica in Turin when the director was acting in a local stage production and Luciano was one of the children appearing in a scene. The child was orphaned shortly before he began work on The Children Are Watching Us and he would go on to work with De Sica again on Cuore (1948). Emilio Cigoli, in the role of Andrea, was a film dubber prior to his appearance in The Children Are Watching Us and the woman playing Agnese, his housekeeper in the film, was actually his real mother.

Although De Sica would later call The Children Are Watching Us "a compromise between the old formula and the new," he recognized its importance in his growth as a director and for his screenwriter Zavattini it was a revelation. In the excellent liner notes accompanying the Criterion disc (featuring contributions by Peter Brunette and Stuart Klawans), he states that The Children Are Watching Us was "the most important stage in the evolution of my career as a filmmaker, and even of my career as a human being. Through the character of the child, we felt for the first time a human being, whereas all my previous characters had felt like puppets."

Rarely seen in the U.S. or even in Italy in its original form, the Criterion edition of The Children Are Watching Us is a remarkably clear and vivid transfer considering its spotty distribution history. There is only some slight wear and tear apparent during the opening credits but for the most part the print is splendid and the soundtrack is virtually free of hiss, pops and other audio imperfections. The extras include a current interview with Luciano De Ambrosis who recalls his experience with De Sica on the film and an overview of the film and its place in Italian cinema by De Sica film scholar Callisto Cosulich. All in all, a most welcome addition to the Criterion catalogue and a film which is still heart-wrenching and powerful without ever descending into easy sentimentality, an accusation some critics directed toward De Sica's later films.

For more information about The Children Are Watching Us, visit Criterion Collection. To order The Children Are Watching Us, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford

Vittorio De Sica's The Children Are Watching Us on DVD

Roberto Rossellini's Roma, Citta Aperta (Rome, Open City, 1945) is generally acknowledged as the film that ushered in the neorealism movement and set the tone and style for the postwar Italian films that followed. But the roots of neorealism can be traced back to Luchino Visconti's Ossessione (1943) and Vittorio De Sica's The Children Are Watching Us (1944, I bambini ci guardano), both of which were filmed in 1942 but encountered distribution problems upon their release in the fall of 1942 when the war finally came to Italy and the bombings began. Ossessione was also the victim of Fascist censorship which reduced the film to less than half of its original running time and for years it was denied distribution in the U.S. due to an infringement of copyright (it was an uncredited adaptation of the James M. Cain novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice). The Children Are Watching Us didn't fare any better during its limited release and for years it was a difficult film to see in its original form, even in its own country. The De Sica film, now available on DVD from The Criterion Collection, is especially significant because it marked the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between the director and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini. A popular stage and film actor, De Sica began directing movies in 1940 but his early efforts were lightweight affairs, typical of the commercial Italian films of its day. With The Children Are Watching Us, De Sica and Zavattini began to create a new kind of cinema, one which explored the human condition using real locations and lesser known actors and non-professionals. A simple melodrama on the surface, The Children Are Watching Us tells the story of a failed marriage through the eyes of the couple's only child, Prico (Luciano De Ambrosis). When the story opens, Nina (Isa Pola) takes her young son to the park where she has a rendezvous with her lover Roberto (Adriano Rimoldi). Shortly thereafter she runs away with him, abandoning Prico and husband Andrea (Emilio Cigoli). Prico's humiliated father, who is unable to care for his son while working, is forced to shuttle him from an uncaring aunt to a nagging grandmother and finally a boarding school. Then Nina returns to her family, guilt-stricken and full of remorse, and Andrea agrees to take her back for the sake of the boy. For awhile, they attempt to be the family they once were and even take a holiday trip to the beach. But Roberto re-enters the scene and Nina is unable to contain her desire for him. [SPOILER ALERT] The story comes to a tragic end with Andrea committing suicide over his failure as a father and husband and Prico rejecting his weak mother and returning to boarding school after a harsh final reunion. For Italian audiences at the time, The Children Are Watching Us was a clear departure from other melodramas due to its frank treatment of adult subject matter (infidelity) and its emotional realism; some scenes were, in fact, quite jarring to moviegoers such as the moment when Nina's lover enters the family's apartment and berates her in front of her son or Andrea's desperate final act (the suicide happens off-camera). Not surprisingly, The Children Are Watching Us ran into censorship problems with the Fascist regime controlling the state cinema since its depiction of unfaithful mothers, suicidal fathers and unhappy children reflected badly on Italian society and went against the tenets of Fascist philosophy. De Sica's name was removed from the original credits by the fascist film board as punishment for failure to uphold the dictates of the Mussolini government; they were later re-instated. But the film's focus on lost innocence and the suffering of children was a theme that De Sica and Zavattini would return to again and again in such films as Shoeshine (1946) and The Bicycle Thief (1948). "Children are the first to suffer in life," De Sica once said, "Innocents always pay." Despite the use of some interior studio sets, the beginnings of neorealism style can be observed throughout The Children Are Watching Us in De Sica's choice of outdoor settings and real locations with nonprofessionals. The scene where an overcrowded tram stops on a street in Rome to deposit and take on additional passengers is a telling snapshot of its era, vivid with documentary detail, and the seaside sequence with middle-class Italians on holiday works as both a social critique of class structure and an evocative carefree moment in time before the nation felt the full impact of World War II. De Sica's casting of lesser known actors and novices in key roles also marked the beginning of a movement away from star driven vehicles and glamorized characters. Luciano De Ambrosis, who plays Prico in the film, was discovered by De Sica in Turin when the director was acting in a local stage production and Luciano was one of the children appearing in a scene. The child was orphaned shortly before he began work on The Children Are Watching Us and he would go on to work with De Sica again on Cuore (1948). Emilio Cigoli, in the role of Andrea, was a film dubber prior to his appearance in The Children Are Watching Us and the woman playing Agnese, his housekeeper in the film, was actually his real mother. Although De Sica would later call The Children Are Watching Us "a compromise between the old formula and the new," he recognized its importance in his growth as a director and for his screenwriter Zavattini it was a revelation. In the excellent liner notes accompanying the Criterion disc (featuring contributions by Peter Brunette and Stuart Klawans), he states that The Children Are Watching Us was "the most important stage in the evolution of my career as a filmmaker, and even of my career as a human being. Through the character of the child, we felt for the first time a human being, whereas all my previous characters had felt like puppets." Rarely seen in the U.S. or even in Italy in its original form, the Criterion edition of The Children Are Watching Us is a remarkably clear and vivid transfer considering its spotty distribution history. There is only some slight wear and tear apparent during the opening credits but for the most part the print is splendid and the soundtrack is virtually free of hiss, pops and other audio imperfections. The extras include a current interview with Luciano De Ambrosis who recalls his experience with De Sica on the film and an overview of the film and its place in Italian cinema by De Sica film scholar Callisto Cosulich. All in all, a most welcome addition to the Criterion catalogue and a film which is still heart-wrenching and powerful without ever descending into easy sentimentality, an accusation some critics directed toward De Sica's later films. For more information about The Children Are Watching Us, visit Criterion Collection. To order The Children Are Watching Us, go to TCM Shopping. by Jeff Stafford

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall September 12, 1986

Released in United States March 1980

Released in United States March 1980 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Treasures From Eastman House) March 4-21, 1980.)

Released in United States Fall September 12, 1986