Vittorio de Sica is famous for making one of the masterpieces of Italian neorealist cinema, Bicycle Thieves. A small in scope drama about a poverty-stricken father who gets work as a poster man but is unable to do his job once his bicycle got stolen. It is famous for using nonprofessionals, all locations, and a humanist storyline. It is the perfect example of this movement. But before he could reach the highest distillation of his ethos and the movement’s manifesto, he explored gingerly, feeling around in the world of subtle and artistic cinema. The Children Are Watching Us is one of de Sica’s earliest experiments.
The story centers around a small boy. He is caught in between the romantic entanglements of his parents. Although still married, the mother leaves the child several times throughout the film to be with her lover. This has a devastating effect on the child who is around five. He can see that his father is sad, he knows that he is a burden for him, and he wishes that his mother would come home. He is ushered from family member to family member until finally he is put in a boarding school for young boys like himself. He is not allowed to live with his family anymore. He accepts his fate the only way a young child can, through tears.
The child in this film is easily the most moving thing about it. He has a sweet face and an inquiring eye that makes you instantly want to hold him and tell him everything will be okay. He was supposedly picked because his mother had just died, so it was easy for him to cry and look sad. He is able to completely understand the emotions his parents are going through, even if he doesn’t understand their actions. There is one scene in which his mother has come back after hearing that he is sick. She has come just for a visit and she still has her hat on. The child repeatedly says take off your hat. This is a clear inference that the child wants his mom to stay forever. de Sica was able to substitute the clichéd and boring “I love you, don’t leave me,” with something tangible. If this mother really loved her child, she would take off her hat and stay.
It was interesting to see how my affections changed from one parent to the other through the course of the film. At the beginning, my allegiance went to the mother. The first scene is of her going to a park to meet up secretly with her lover. While she lets her child go unsupervised, she still is able to convey how unhappy her husband makes her in a sympathetic way. The next sequence is at the family dinner table where the father is unduly cold to her for seemingly no reason. He is demanding and self-satisfied. I would have left him too. But as the film goes on and the mother disappears several times without any notice, the allegiance leaves the mother and transfers over to the father. You can see that he loves his wife and that he will do anything to make her happy, even springing for a long trip at the beach. He doesn’t want to lose her but realizes that he cannot do anything about it. He is resigned to the fact that at the end he won’t see his child again. That he has given up his happiness in order to provide a stable environment for his child. He doesn’t want to take his child to a boarding school or his family friends, but he must.
Although a lot of aspects of this film are pure melodrama, you can see the de Sica that he will become peeking out from behind the curtain. This is an interesting movie to watch to not only see his evolution, but also to witness how well he was doing even on his fifth movie ever.