The Children Are Watching Us (1942)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama, Melodrama  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - Italy   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Yes, I Bambini Ci Guardano will break your heart, but to assess it as a tearjerker would be an incredible injustice and understatement. With this gentle, frail, incandescently beautiful work, Vittorio De Sica adds little Prico's broken face to a compendium of cinematic images that haunt us with their verisimilitude. That De Sica managed to coax the terror of actual experience from a rehearsed actor is astonishing; that it came from a six-year-old child is unimaginable. The picture's dramatic essence (which is almost intangible in its purity and refinement) overwhelms us, and makes an indelible impression. But Children shines most vividly, over 60 years later, as a social document. All expectant couples should be forced to watch this work as a prerequisite of parenthood -- more than any other film or piece of literature in memory, it drives home the idea of maternal and paternal accountability, and the crushing burden that it entails. In no other commercial feature has a director so hauntingly conveyed the degree of psychological influence that a parent exerts over a small child, or the irreversible destruction wielded when a parent's selfish irresponsibility rears its head. I Bambini Ci Guardano may not be an "easy" viewing experience, but it ranks among the most invaluable cinematic works in history. Its ambitions are so rare, its message so crucial, and its execution so flawless on every level that it can only be called a masterpiece.