The Stolen Children Review
Viewers in the UK may be more familiar with the director Gianni Amelio from his 2004 film The Keys To The House, a delightful film about a father who, after being absent for a long time, comes to take on the responsibility for his disabled son and accept all the difficulties that entails. A delightful, uplifting and moving film with not a trace of sentimentality or undue optimism about the fates of the characters, all the same characteristics are evident in the Italian director’s 1992 film, Il Ladro di Bambini, The Stolen Children.
A calm and measured approach is even more essential here, since the nature of the difficult circumstances facing the children in The Stolen Children is a delicate one. At the heart of the story is the fate of two young children who have been caught up in a prostitution racket in Milan. When their mother is arrested, her children - the young 11 year-old girl, Rosetta (Valentina Scalici) and the 9-year old Luciano (Giuseppe Ieracitano) - are escorted to Civitavecchia by two policemen to be put into an institution. Due to the circumstances surrounding the case, with the young girl having been forced by her mother into prostitution, the institution are unwilling to take the children in, considering them special cases, not orphans. Not knowing what to do with the children, since he has been left to deal with them alone, the young carabiniere Antonio (Enrico Lo Verso) decides to take them down to the south of Italy, closer to their home of Sicily and, coincidentally, closer to his own home in Calabria.
The nature of the road-movie makes the film sound somewhat schematic, and in the hands of a lesser director the situation of the abused children would no doubt be milked for sentiment and a tearful redemptive ending. Gianni Amelio however treats the subject with sensitivity and realism. As they progress on their journey, Antonio the young policeman comes to understand and feel sympathy for these mistreated and abused children who have never had the chance to enjoy a normal childhood. Meeting Antonio’s family and his grandmother, enjoying some time on the beach in the southern Italian heat, the children also for the first time start to come alive, learning that a different kind of family relationship is possible, gradually opening up and leaning to trust an adult. However for every moment when it seems like the children are taking a progressive step forward, something else happens to haul them harshly right back to reality. Newspaper articles remind them of a past they can never escape, and without a family or anyone willing to take care of them, their future prospects are bleak.
In this way the film never betrays the serious nature of its subject for the sake of drama or pathos, but reminds you of the reality of such abuse. A walk towards the Termini train station through the streets of Rome is filled with examples of what the future has in store for these children and hundreds like them – homeless people, sick people, abused people, left out on the streets to survive a life of alcoholism and crime. Like them, the children are victims that society doesn’t know how to deal with. Dealing with criminals who break the law is easy – the children are assured that the people who abused them are locked up in prison – but Amelio shows a society that has no idea how to handle the victims. In the case of young Rosetta, it is as if she is tainted with culpability through association, her face plastered on newspapers without any consideration for what she has endured. Unable to respond to the needs of the children, society prefers to turn a blind eye. Faced with such treatment all their lives, the children do not understand why Antonio too doesn’t turn away and let them slip off into the night to be forgotten. Sadly, as Antonio is hauled over the coals by his superiors for his actions, the moral of the story is that such kindness is all too uncommon and not understood.
The Stolen Children is released in the UK by Arrow Pictures. The film is presented on a single-layer disc in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.
Sadly, the video quality for the film is barely adequate. The film is presented at a ratio of approximately 1.48:1 rather than the 1.66:1 I suspect it ought to be, and it is not anamorphically enhanced. The transfer appears to be taken from an old theatrical print, with numerous scratches, dustspots and larger marks occasionally visible as well as fairly noticeable reel-change marks. It’s reasonably well coloured, but the tones are slightly off and blacks look rather dull and flat. Some telecine wobbling is evident throughout the length of the film. Overall though, clarity is good and tones are fine, and transfer serves as a decent if certainly unexceptional viewing copy - but nothing more than that.
The original soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. The sound is rather low and on the dull side with no great clarity or depth. Again, it is merely adequate, allowing you to distinguish dialogue and sounds relatively well.
English subtitles are provided and are optional. They are in a clear white font and seem to translate the film thoroughly and well.
There are no extra features on the DVD.
Gianni Amelio’s script for The Stolen Children treats its characters and its delicate situation with intelligence, sensitivity and great respect and this fine writing is reflected in the remarkable performances of the cast. The harsh realism of the film’s treatment only emphasises the underlying warmth and humanity that shines through, challenging the viewer to consider how society reacts towards and treats victims of abuse and other less fortunate members of society. Sadly, such a marvellous film has not been given the kind of DVD release it deserves, but in the absence of anything better, at least it’s out there and it’s still worth seeing.