Umberto D. (1952)

Synopsis:

An older retired ex-government employee, Umberto Domenico Ferrari (Carlo Battisti), tries to survive on a miserable pension. When his landlady finally realizes that he cannot afford his rent, Umberto finds himself homeless. Without friends or family members to rely on, he wanders the streets with his always-faithful dog “Flag.”

Reaction & Thoughts:

Full disclosure: I do not like “realism” in movies. I usually try to stay away from all those “documentary-like” movies. I always tell myself, “if I want to see reality, all I have to do is watch the evening news.” In my opinion, movies are supposed to be an illusion and I resent filmmakers that try to tone down the medium’s inherent artifice. I tend to go for movies with a strong sense of control and style. However, like most things in life, there are exceptions to this very personal rule of mine.

Umberto D., written by Vittorio De Sica and Cesare Zavattini, directed by De Sica, almost made me reevaluate my ideas about cinema. Despite my reservations about this type of realistic film, I must say that this Italian production won me over in a matter of minutes. Sica gives his movie a simplicity rarely seen in today’s movie business.

De Sica is, without a doubt, one of the essential individuals in the maturity of films. In the early 1940s, as Italy struggled during World War II, he essentially invented what would be known as Italian neorealism — a movement that tried to bring realism into the art of movies.

De Sica’s The Children are Watching Us (1944) established the formula and soon many other European directors joined him, creating stark, harrowing realistic films that caught the eyes of many critics and movie lovers. Of all the movies that have been attached to this genre of cinema, I think Umberto D. is the most accessible. Combining social commentary with genuine pathos, De Sica creates a timeless tale of human perseverance.

Umberto D. tells the story of a penniless old man trying to overcome life’s daily obstacles. His only friend is a charismatic little mutt named “Flag,” and this relationship — between the old man and the little four-legged beastie — is the focus of this poignant and unforgettable movie. Yes, it is a sentimental story, but at the core of the film, we can find an honest analysis of the importance of life’s simplest joys. It’s also a great tribute to the common individual, and if this film doesn’t move you, nothing will.

Umberto D. is a heart-wrenching movie that I’m sure will please modern viewers because it deals with issues that are still prevalent in today’s world. I particularly liked the film’s exploration of ageism, a problem that is probably even more acute now. It’s all done in the most disarmingly gentle manner, then to top it all off Battisti, a non-professional actor, gives a performance for the ages.

 Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

If you have not yet seen a neorealist film, or even if you find foreign films a little intimidating, Umberto D. offers a nice starting point. I like neorealist movies like Open City (1945) and Bicycle Thieves (1948) more, but Umberto D. is clearly one the best of its kind — a charming and poignant little masterpiece. Co-tarring Maria-Pia Casilio, Lina Gennari, Ileana Simova, and Elena Rea. B&W, 89 minutes, Not Rated.

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