The Children are Watching Us (1944)

8 02 2009

Probably the best film I’ve seen from Vittorio De Sica, though rewatches of Umberto D and Shoeshine are definitely in order. While I don’t think this film is as achingly personal as the recent Rossellini efforts I’ve watched, it does have the advantaged of being more polished and formally pleasing. That doesn’t mean this is any more or less “light” than Germany Year Zero, it just feels like the person behind the camera has greater understanding of cinema’s technical possibilities. I’d say De Sica is a much better filmmaker than Rossellini, where as Rossellini was just better at coming across something that hits me deeper.

It is probably worth mentioning that the physical state of this film is much better than any Rossellini film I’ve seen. Once someone restores Rossellini’s war-time efforts, I might have to amend this statement, but until then, I’ll say that De Sica seems to have a better concept of visual compositions. There are some legitimately virtuoso moments here, such as the tracking shot that follows the protagonist’s nearly-fatal walk along a railroad, or the  low-angle shot that beautifully closes the film. The imagery from De Sica’s catalog seems much more memorable than the imagery in Rossellini’s. He’s a bit more vivid of a storyteller, which is obviously a plus, as is the fact that his films are less socially conscious.

Even though it was made in 1942, and was held for release until 1944, there is no mention of war for the entire film. I doubt I will ever be able to say the same for a Rossellini movie. Personally, a film like Germany Year Zero still works because it is about feelings that are not exclusive to decaying of a post-war city. Here, on the other hand, feelings related to war are not even referenced. Instead, all of the drama comes from the internal, which leads to more interesting characters.

Another point in De Sica’s court is for his setup: a mother leaves her family for an ex-lover, comes back, and then leaves again. It has melodrama written all over, but does stay rather subtle for a majority of the film’s length. I really love the touch De Sica adds to the structure by having the mother being somewhat reasonably undescisive. While it was interesting that De Sica maintained his interest in a naive child, I can’t help but feel like he was a little undescisive as well. At times, he seems willing to explore the tension between the parents and their doomed relationship, but at other times, he just wants it to be the backdrop in a coming of age story. The characters are not really alloted enough time for me to consider this to be in the same vein as Naruse, or Ozu. It probably doesn’t help that the ending is rather schmaltzy, either. Overall, though, this is pretty much fantastic.

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