Those who think they come from oppressive family backgrounds can get some useful perspective from Stolen Children. Set in contemporary Italy, this stoic and absorbing new movie centers on an 11-year-old girl, Rosetta (Valentina Scalici), whose mother has been employing her as a prostitute since she was 9. The director, Gianni Amelio, refuses to cry out in horror at this atrocity; he knows he doesn't have to. Instead, he takes Rosetta and her 9-year-old brother on a quiet odyssey of redemption.
Torn from their mother by the police, the two are dispatched to an orphanage in Sicily, with a young carabiniere (Enrico Lo Verso) as their guide. As they drift through random urban locales train stations, convenience stores, public parks there are no revelations, no cathartic sentimental moments. Amelio lets the movie unfold almost entirely through the faces of his actors: Lo Verso, thick-featured and friendly as the dim, well-meaning Antonio; Giuseppe Ieracitano as Luciano, a cherub carrying a storehouse of mute resentment; and, most of all, Valentina Scalici as Rosetta, sullen and wary, never trusting anyone, a girl forced into sin in a country that blames the sinner. The title is double-edged. For if Antonio ends up in trouble for ''stealing'' his two charges, it is also true that their childhood has been stolen from them. They've been denied the gift of innocence. Amelio's dawdling approach isn't always satisfying: This is neorealism so real it all but begs for a more vivid dramatic shape. But Scalici's hard, haunted look isn't one you'll soon forget. B