This film is an allegory for post-war Italians families with the message : get back on track with what’s important about family life; don’t make immoral decisions; be aware of the impact of your behavior on your children.  If you’re not able to stand up to the responsibility of parenting, then the church will take over for you.  It’s a classic Italian neorealist film put together by the famous director and screen writer Vittorio De Sica (who also made The Bicycle Thief, Umberto D, and the Garden of the Finzi-Contini).

Of course I thoroughly enjoy any film set in Rome, just because it is Rome.  Here we stroll through the Pincio, watch a puppet show, visit a dressmaker, sit back while the housekeeper serves us up a big bowl of soup, and even go to a condominium meeting. What surprised me was that the film was released in 1944 ( supposedly it was ready for release in 1942) but the film offers no signs of war: no poverty, no soldiers, no hint of the black market or bombing.  Rome, by the way, was occupied by the Germans until June 4, 1944.  Perhaps the absence of war reflects the insulation of the child, 4-year old Prico, from the political world and thus magnifies the importance of his family life.

The film also takes you to a seaside resort for the upper class on the Italian Riviera, where again, there are no signs of World War Two having had been a factor in any characters’ lives.

With great tenderness, The Children are Watching, follows the anguish of the boy Prico after his mother, Nina, leaves his father, Andrea, for her lover Roberto. Prico gets sick so his mother returns and the family seems a unit again, at least until they take a vacation on the Riviera.  Andrea returns to Rome prior to  Nina and Prico.   Roberto shows up at the Riviera resort and, despite the mother’s protests, manages to seduce her again.

There’s bold, almost cartoonish characterizations of the Italian middle and upper classes in this film.  The gossip-mongering condominium neighborhood acts like a Greek Chorus, mocking and cheering on the unhappiness of the married couple. Equally intrusive are the vacationers on the Riviera. The paternal grandmother, filmed from a worm’s eye view, might as well wear a witch hat. Roberto, the mother’s lover, is by far the most arrogant adulterer I’ve seen on film; and he’s unlikable, though handsome.  Well, he’s more handsome than the husband.

Andrea, the husband, works in a bank. He’s sensitive, a man who wants to live up to his duties but who could benefit from an injection of Marcello Mastroinanni  in order to become sexually desirable.  He hangs curtains for his wife  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a man hang curtains in a movie. But the curtains are his exit signal.  In other words, it’s curtains for him because his son returns home without the mother.

Andrea turns Prico, the now motherless child, over to a Catholic Boarding School because he can’t raise the son on his own.  Then Andrea dies, off screen.  He foreshadowing indicates he jumped out the eighth floor window because he cannot stand being the cuckold husband, the object of neighborhood gossip, and a failure as a father. In the final scene, NIna, the mother, visits Prico at the Boarding school to tell him about  his father’s death, but the totally anguished child–his face will make you cry with him– turns to a priest for comfort.

I bambini ci guardano



84 minutes

Black and White