The Children are Watching Us (Vittorio De Sica / Italy, 1944):
(I Bambini ci Guardano)

The importance of viewpoints expressed in the title is accentuated in an early tracking shot, a four-year-old boy (Luciano De Ambrosis) single-mindedly pushing onwards to see the puppets in the park while his jittery mother (Isa Pola) glances this way and that for her lover. About to embark on what Vittorio De Sica once called "the sole drama of the bourgeoisie," sheís a more sympathetic figure than the vaguely sinister careerist (Emilio Cigoli) sheís married to; the morning after her disappearance is a series of oblique impressions splendidly sketched, half-swallowed sentences and dad unshaven and late for work, gossips knocking at the front door, the coupleís empty bed. A melodious pediatrician wielding an adroit reflex hammer, De Sica keys the rest of the unfolding drama to the young protagonistís virginal gaze, the discovery of new spaces (a seamstressí shop filled with decapitated mannequins, a grandmotherís cottage, a bustling vacation resort), new emotions, new traumas. Peeking into the world of grown-ups, De Ambrosis spies on a couple necking clandestinely and the woman gets conked on the head with a flowerpot; on the way back home (aboard Freudís train?), a maelstrom of distorted angles and magnified faces gives expressionistic form to his bewilderment, capped by a split-second superimposed image and a pleading word: "Mamma." She returns but her maternal resolve proves no match for the melancholy eyes of the interloper (Adriano Rimoldi), the same frivolous crowd who had encouraged her indiscretion then bathes her in scorn. "Ah, the social whirl... The things people do in its name." The end of summer and the beginning of boarding school, the dazed walk on railroad tracks (Pixote) and the desperate sprint on the beachfront (The 400 Blows), above all the great close-up of the boy (struggling to hold on to a lie, not wanting to wound either parent) questioned by the father who already knows the truth. The painful and necessary maturation is not just that of a child, but, as befits a crossroads between white-telephone polish and neo-realist inquiry, of Italian cinema, too. With Giovanna Cigoli, Jone Frigerio, and Maria Gardena. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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