Stolen Children, The (1992): Amelio’s Heartbreaking Neorealist Drama of Marginalized Children

Gianni Amelio directed the heartbreakingly emotional drama, The Stolen Children (Il ladro di bambini), which was critically acclaimed at the Cannes Film Fest and a commercial hit internationally.

he Stolen Children
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The film was the Italian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but it was not nominated.

The tale, co-written by Amelio, centers on two outcast children, Rosetta, 11, and Luciano, 9, who live with their poor mother in Milan’s marginalized housing projects.

As migrants from Sicily, they face prejudice in their adopted city.  Their father has abandoned them, and their single mother, being unemployed, is forced to engage her daughter in prostitution.

When the authorities raid the place and arrest the mother, the children are destined to be sent to a Catholic orphanage in Civitavecchia, near Rome. Two carabinieri, the rookie Antonio and older man Grignani are assigned the task of escorting them by train. Then Grignani walks out at Bologna, leaving Antonio to do the job alone.

In the course of the tumultuous journey, Antonio is accused of kidnapping and abusing the children, failing to follow orders. Initially forced to hand in his warrant card (pending court martial), he and the kids are later released.

In the end, having nearly reached their final destination, Antonio pulls over to an abandoned block where all three fall asleep in the car. The children wake up at early dawn, walking of the road, while talking about their future in the orphanage.

Influenced by the neorealist tradition of Rossellini and De Sica, Amelio cast non-actors for most roles, including the two children. Adding to the sense of authenticity was the fact the shoot was done on location.

Note about Italian and US Title:

The Italian title Il ladro di bambini literally means “The child thief,” an ironic reference to the fact that in taking the children on a journey, Antonio has technically kidnapped them. It also makes an explicit reference to De Sica’s neorealist classic, Ladri di biciclette.

Critical Status:

Stolen Children won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1992 Cannes Film Fest, Best Feature from the European Dilm Awards, and six Donatello Awards (Italian Oscars), for Best Film, Best Director, Best Producer, Best Editing, Best Music, and Special David for the child actors (Giuseppe Ieracitano and Valentina Scalici )