De Sica’s The Children Are Watching Us: Neorealist Cinema and Sexual Difference

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De Sica’s I bambini ci guardano/The Children Are Watching Us (1943) is typically celebrated as ‘proto-neorealist’, in part because it is often considered the first collaboration between De Sica and Zavattini. Indeed, apart from De Sica’s and Zavattini’s collaboration, the film has little in common with neorealism – it has glossy production values, special effects and professional actors. It does share with other films of Italian neorealism, however, a tendency to firmly place the blame for catastrophic historical and personal events on women, especially on female sexual desire; often the failure of a particular woman to restrain her desire may seem like a regrettable if incidental fact, but the cumulative effect of such films is both to suggest that ‘girls can’t be heroes’ (Roma: citta aperta/Open City (Rossellini, 1946)) and to regret that neorealism’s child protagonists (invariably male) cannot remain forever in an innocent world unmarked by sexual difference. Through a close reading of The Children Are Watching Us in the context of other neorealist films, this article suggests that some of neorealism’s central concerns may be rather different than generally thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-112
Number of pages16
JournalStudies in European Cinema
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009


  • De Sica
  • Gender
  • Neorealism
  • Sexual difference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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