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Film / The Children Are Watching Us

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The Children Are Watching Us is a 1943 film from Italy, directed by Vittorio De Sica.

It is told from the perspective of Prico, a little boy, son of Andrea and Nina. His parents maintain a superficial air of respectability, but in fact his mother has for two years been having an affair with a man named Roberto. One day Nina takes Prico out for a trip to the park, but in fact her real purpose is to meet Roberto. Roberto begs Nina to go away with him, and she tells him that she can't. However, that very night, Nina does in fact run away with her mother.

Andrea, left as a single father and evidently unwilling to raise a son with only the maid for help, looks for someone to take the boy in. Nina's sister refuses, as does Andrea's own mother. Eventually, a shamefaced Nina returns, the parents reconcile, and the whole family goes on a vacation to the beach to put the past behind them. Unfortunately, Roberto follows, and Nina once again gives in to temptation.

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Vittorio De Sica's fifth film as a director, made during a particularly chaotic moment in Italy's history. It was filmed in 1942 under Fascist Italy but not released until October 1943, at a time when Italy had been occupied by the Germans and divided between Mussolini's puppet regime in the north and liberated territory in the south, with the Allies slowly fighting their way up the peninsula.


Tropes:

  • Boarding School: Unable to face the Gossipy Hens, Andrea winds up sending Prico to boarding school after his wife walks out for the second time.
  • A Deadly Affair: Nina's affair eventually drives Andrea to kill himself.
  • Dream Sequence: A feverish Prico has a hallucinatory dream sequence where scenes from the puppet show he watched are intercut with his mom and her lover meeting and walking away.
  • Driven to Suicide: The heartbreak and shame caused by the dissolution of his marriage leads Andrea to kill himself.
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  • Face Framed in Shadow: Nina's face is framed in shadow in an ominous way as she tells Prico that yes, she'll take him to the puppet show again the next day. Instead, she leaves with Roberto that very night.
  • Gossipy Hens: All the awful married ladies who live in the apartment building, led by Mrs. Resta, who keeps poking her nose into Andrea and Nina's apartment, and who brags to her neighbors about now nobody can keep secrets from her. Towards the end Andrea cites the "gossip network" as the reason why he can't keep his son at home.
  • It's All About Me: Andrea's very rich but also very self-involved mother, who refuses to take in her grandson at a moment of crisis, saying "I just want to live in peace!".
  • Love Triangle: A tragic one between a husband, a wife, and the wife's lover that she can't bring herself to quit.
  • Manly Tears: Andrea breaks down in tears after dropping his son off at boarding school. He then kills himself offscreen.
  • Moment Killer: Prico is being looked over by a maid, Paolina, while at his grandmother's house. When Paolina sneaks off to meet a lover, Prico, who wasn't really sleeping, follows. Paolina is about to kiss her boyfriend when Prico, watching from above, accidentally knocks over a flowerpot which falls down and hits her directly on the head.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The first time that Prico really has any agency in the story is the very end. Faced with his mother at the boarding school following his father's suicide, he refuses to go to her, instead turning and walking away as the film ends.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Prico is the POV character in the film, with the whole story being told from his perspective in scenes where he is present, but he doesn't really affect the action until the very end, when he walks away from his mother at the boarding school.
  • Stage Magician: Nina takes Prico to see a nightclub magic act. Roberto follows them there, and the two meet, as even more Gossipy Hens talk about them.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Andrea has to go back to work but decides that Nina and Prico can stay behind at the beach for a while, so they bid him goodbye at the train station. It's staged to subtly hint that this is a bad idea and, sure enough, soon after she takes up with Roberto again.
  • Two-Act Structure: Part One (there's a title card to that effect) shows the breakup of Andrea and Nina's marriage, and their tentative reconciliation. Part Two shows the deceptively happy trip to the beach, and how everything finally goes wrong.
  • Widow's Weeds: Nina has been constantly cheating on her husband and just walked out on him for the second time, but still shows up in the standard black dress for the last scene when she meets Prico at the boarding school.

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