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The Children Are Watching Us (The Criterion Collection)

4.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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(Mar 28, 2006)
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The Criterion Collection
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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.

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

Special Features

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer
  • New video interviews with star Luciano de Ambrosis and De Sica scholar Callisto Cosulich
  • New and improved subtitle translation
  • A booklet featuring film scholar Robert Cardullo and Stuart Klawans on screenwriter Cesare Zavattini

Product Details

  • Actors: Emilio Cigoli, Luciano De Ambrosis, Isa Pola, Adriano Rimoldi, Giovanna Cigoli
  • Directors: Vittorio De Sica
  • Writers: Adolfo Franci, Cesare Giulio Viola, Cesare Zavattini, Gherardo Gherardi, Margherita Maglione
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Closed-captioned, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Italian (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: March 28, 2006
  • Run Time: 84 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000BR6QCS
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,059 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Children Are Watching Us (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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.
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An unhappy marriage seen through the eyes of a child. It's a very sad, heartbreaking story that never gets melodramatic, but believably portrays the impact of parental discord on a young, sensitive, impressionable mind. This film was the beginning of an impressive string of similarly heartbreaking dramatic collaborations between director Vittorio De Sica and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, which included such masterpieces as Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan, Umberto D, and The Roof. The Children are Watching Us easily belongs in that list of great films.

The transfer is lovely and sharp, only briefly showing some scratches and wear during a few fades, and the video upscales nicely with my blu-ray player to my 1080p televison. I highly recommend this Criterion disc.
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