(director/writer: Vittorio De Sica; screenwriters: Cesare Zavattini/Adolfo Franci/Gherardo Gherardi/Margherita Maglione/from the novel by Cesare Giulio Viola; cinematographer: Giuseppe Caracciolo; editor: Mario Bonotti; music: Renzo Rossellini; cast: Luciano De Ambrosis (Prico), Emilio Cigoli (Andrea), Isa Pola (Nina), Adriano Rimoldi (Roberto), Dina Perbellini (Zia), Jone Frigerio (Grandmother), Giovanna Cigoli (Agnese), Maria Gardena (Signora Uberti), Tecla Scarano (Resta), Zaira La Fratta (Paolina); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Franco Magli; Criterion Collection, The; 1944-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)

A painfully moving portrait that shows the affects of a family break-up has on a sensitive 4-year-old boy and destroys his childhood innocence.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A painfully moving portrait that shows the affects of a family break-up has on a sensitive 4-year-old boy and destroys his childhood innocence. Under the brilliant direction of actor-turned-director Vittorio De Sica (“Miracle in Milan”/”Shoeshine”/”The Bicycle Thief”), it’s an important and under-appreciated film in his WW2 neo-realist films. It was shot on location and with mostly non-professional actors. The great film could not find an audience and was a box-office flop. It’s co-written by De Sica, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi and Margherita Maglione from the novel by Cesare Giulio Viola.

The unfaithful Nina (Isa Pola) leaves her careerist office-worker middle-class husband Andrea (Emilio Cigoli) and her 4-year-old loving boy Prico (Luciano De Ambrosis) for her persistent suitor Roberto (Adriano Rimoldi), whom she’s too weak to resist. Nina leaves her hi-rise apartment in Rome, whose elevator to her 8th floor apartment only goes up but because of a defect doesn’t go down, to go with the middle-class worker Roberto to Genoa. The hard-working father decides he is not able to take care of the kid alone, even if helped by his able housekeeper Agnese (Giovanna Cigoli), and ships the kid off for a day with his wife’s prickly seamstress sister Zia (Dina Perbellini)when she rejects the kid to his grouchy mother’s (Jone Frigerio) country cottage. When Nina is asked to leave after accidentally dropping a flower vase on his grandmother’s flirty daughter’s (Zaira La Fratta) head, he returns to live with his father. When taken ill, mom returns to take care of Prico. But when dad treats the family to an expensive beach resort holiday on the Italian Riviera and cuts short his holiday to return to work in Rome, Roberto shows up at the resort and connects again with Nina. When Nina runs away again and the building gossips have a field-day with that, Andrea places his son in a uniformed Catholic boarding school and his ego is so shattered that he commits suicide. The abandoned kid is shattered and rejects his visiting mom, seeking a shaky solace with one of the priests as he reconciles spending his childhood in the boarding school.

It might not be the happy drama a bourgeois audience wants to see, but it’s a powerful and impactful film about modern marriages as seen through the eyes of a child. It points its finger at infidelity, the inability of selfish adults to relate to children and a corrupt materialistic society more interested in their careers than raising children.