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Vittorio DeSica's wonderful "Umberto D" was one of the last films of
the Italian neo-realism movement and by far its best one. It is also
one of my favorite movies ever. The movie's premise is simple: it is a
slice of the life of a poor lonely pensioner, Umberto. Throughout the
movie, we see Umberto struggle to find money to pay rent to his
horrible landlady, love his dog Flike, and deal with the loneliness and
disillusionment of the postwar era.
"Umberto D" is a character-driven film. It works very well because of its sharp observations on loneliness and poignant gestures. The gestures evoke powerful feelings without necessitating dialogue. Many of the scenes, even the ones that do not necessarily advance the plot, are hypnotically beautiful in their simplicity. Take, for example, a beautiful scene where Umberto finally needs to beg for money but cannot physically bring himself to do it. He extends his palm up, but when a passer-by stops to give him money, Umberto quickly flips his hand over, as if testing for rain. The film is full of these small gestures that quietly emphasize the desperate loneliness and poignancy of Umberto's situation.
The acting in this film is absolutely superb. Carlo Battisti, despite having never acted before, is wonderful as the titular character; his face is a fascinating blend of stubborn dignity and weariness of life. Maria Pia-Casilio, who plays the maid, is just as good as evoking life's loneliness and quiet desperation. The supporting cast is also very strong.
One of the very few criticisms I have heard of this film is that it is too sentimental and borderline sappy. While some scenes with Umberto and his dog Flike are sentimental, never is it "too" sentimental. DeSica knows how far he can push his film without making it sappy, and he wisely shows it as it is. Nothing feels forced. The subject material itself and the simplicity in which it is presented will bring tears. (If you don't cry in this movie, you need to have your heart professionally de-thawed.) But "Umberto D" is never dumbed down into sappiness and clichéd corniness. It is a very powerful film.
"Umberto D" is the masterpiece of the Italian neo-realist era. It's a rather bleak and very realistic movie, but it makes some fascinating commentary on the human condition, specifically the loneliness we face. Highly, highly recommended. 10/10.
As I watched Umberto D., by Oscar nominated actor and legendary Oscar
winning director Vittorio De Sica, I knew clearly one thing for
certain- Carlo Battisti, playing the role of retired civil servant
Umberto Domenico Ferrari, is the most convincing non-professional actor
in any given decade of European movie-making. He knows the purpose De
Sica is after within every ounce of his soul (one can see it repeatedly
in his eyes, the small mannerisms)- this is a story of loss, sad yet in
an outlook and outcome that is cruel up to a point and never fiddles
with the viewer's emotions dishonestly. Therefore, one can see him, in
a sense, for what he is- he's us, merely you and I at the end of our
lines of life with one wrong step sent to us after another.
Battisti's Umberto is retired, known fairly among his past employees, and living in a dank, infested one room who seems to be on the standard downward spiral for such a neo-realist effort (indeed, like The Bicycle Thief, many of the elements against him are from society's natural pitfalls). His health starts to go, as he gets a fever, and is sent unsympathetically to the hospital and returns to find the place being torn at each wall. The landlady wants him out, since she will only accept full rent instead of partial rent, and the maid of the house (Maria Pia-Casillo), while kind and friendly, lives in a similar prism of fear and emptiness. However, even she can't help him in the financial difficulties. This leads him out into the streets outside of Rome, where the film plays out like a Chaplin movie, without the humor and female companion- only with his best friend in the world, a little dog named Flag.
By the 3rd act of this epitome of heartbreaker movie-making, a quote passed through my head that Michelangelo Antonionni once stated: The actor is a moving object. That sentence, I can guess, is true of Battisti, as well as for his little dog. Aldo Graziati's camera follows him and his companion like another piece of the frame, which makes our focus on them all the more compelling. They're just their, acting the ways an old man and his pet act with one another, which is care and devotion. Battisti, in turn, delivers for De Sica an over-whelming performance of emotion. The very last scene is one of the definitive milestones of the movement at the time in Italy - despite it all; a relationship between a man and his "best friend" can be stronger in desperate times than a man can have with a fellow human being. Truly, this ending is quite suitable for one of the best films of it's time, and for De Sica a memorial tribute to his father. A++
Umberto D. may be the single most powerful film ever made. It's pretty much impossible not to be affected by it, and I'd imagine only a monster could get through it without shedding a tear. It's not all sad, and certainly cannot be called unrelentingly depressing. There are plenty of beautifully funny moments. The main character, Umberto, is one of the greatest characters I've ever met at the movies. It would be simple to make him just a man to pity: he is a poor old man who is down on his luck. But the artists behind the film have fleshed him out into an incredibly human character. The supporting characters, even those who show up for just a moment, are just as well created. And the acting is godly. 10/10, without a second thought. It's one of the best films ever made.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Much has been written about this landmark masterpiece from Vittorio De
Sica. I first saw it (with my parents) as a young man in high school,
at the Uptown (Columbus) Theatre in Providence, and at the age of
thirteen I was thoroughly moved by this story of old age, poverty, and
near-despair! Perhaps that was a precocious reaction from a youngster,
but as the years moved on and I've become closer in age to its sad hero
and am retired just as he was, I've never ceased to be moved by this
story. The truly stirring scenes are those between Umberto and his dog
Flaik. The moment when he saves it from impending death in the dog
pound and clasps it to himself as the only thing in the world he can
love and be loved by, is utterly overwhelming. Willy-nilly, the dog
returns the favor, the gift at life, at the end by saving his master
from a suicidal leap before an oncoming train. These scenes are justly
extolled by Martin Scorsese in his documentary tribute to the Italian
cinema IL MIO VIAGGIO IN ITALIA.
Yes, the film seems to have an almost Dickensian outlook on the world. The bad are truly bad, gargoyles in fact, like that hideous couple that shelter dogs and to whom Umberto wisely decides not to abandon Flaik, and like the caricatured bitch of a landlady that is Umberto's nemesis. And the good are long-suffering, like the unwed pregnant servant girl and like Umberto himself. Through it all the message of director Vittorio De Sica and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini radiates. Life is a treasure. This film celebrates that idea so poignantly and so wisely. We live. We suffer. We are Umberto D.
This is storytelling at its simplest and most beautiful. An old man - his
sole companion, a dog - tries to survive on a fixed, tight income while
being mistreated by his landlady.
DeSica brilliantly captures the despair of his protagonist and makes this film unforgettably powerful. This film deserves to be seen by everyone, not just those who enjoy foreign-language films.
This film is touching, memorable and manages to draw us into Umberto's life without ever becoming maudlin. The denouement is heartbreaking, but the film never lapses into sentimentality. "Umberto D" truly is one of the greatest films ever made.
An elderly retired civil servant in Rome is about to be forced onto the streets due to the loss of his pension, with only his little dog to comfort him. I'm not even a dog lover and this movie STILL got to me. I rented this on video when I was in high school and my mom ended up watching it with me. The ending (which I won't spoil for those who haven't seen it yet) is the only time I can remember when we have both been crying at the same time during a movie. This is truly a beautiful film and I have to see again soon.
Umberto D was made towards the end of the Neo-realist period in Italian
cinema, following on from Roma Citta Aperta (1945),Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice
1946),Paisa (Paisan 1946) and Ladri di Biciclette (The Bicycle Thieves
1948). Many critics see Umberto D has the finest example of the genre and
Vittorio de Sica, the director, himself considered it to be his best work.
Set in post-war Italy, it is the story of a retired public worker, trying
survive on a meagre state pension and being threatened with eviction from
his landlady. His only friends are his small dog 'Flick' and his
young maid Maria who has just discovered she is pregnant. Filled with
despair over his situation he finally contemplates suicide.
The film sticks firmly to the neorealist conventions; the lead actor is a non professional actor (a college Professor who agreed to play the role), the use of studio sets is kept to minimum and the everyday lives of people are examined in minute detail. One could say that for long parts of the film nothing much happens, for instance when we follow Maria's early morning routine of grinding some coffee, but from these detailed vignettes, we learn a great deal of the thoughts feelings and emotions of the characters. These sequences are why it is a great film. The acting is wonderful, the impossible situations of the old man and of the unmarried but pregnant Maria are really brought to life for the audience. Although a tragic tale it does include many moments of humour and the ending although non-committal is uplifting. All in all a classic.
This was a very touching and wrenching film. It is indeed hard to watch because everyone is so dismissive of Umberto. But people can be like that, especially in desperate times, such as post war Italy when all the money was going to rebuild churches, not feed people. Better for proud hard working Umberto to put on a brave face and quietly disappear so nobody has to worry about him or be concerned about him. At the end he did find that he and Flike still had each other, this little dog didn't care if Umberto had any pride left or not, he loved him just the same. And Umberto needed him to be reminded of the simple joys in life. A very profound and moving film.
This touching story of a poor man in Italy after the war. The director, De Sica has also done the masterpiece "The bicycle thief". A very good and simple film that almost perfectly shows his fight to live a decent life his last years. The end is VERY sad(still I felt it had some hope). A highly recommended film. Also Carlo Battisti's performance is masterful. 9/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is Vittorio DeSica's simple but powerful story of a retired civil
servant named Umberto Domenico Ferrari and his pet dog Flag. Umberto cannot
afford to live anymore on his meager pension and is about to be evicted by
his evil landlady. Umberto's only friend is Maria (Maria-Pia Casilio) but
she is pregnant by someone that even she is not sure of. Umberto gets sick
and goes to the hospital for a few days and when he gets out Flag is gone.
He goes to the local pound and finds him. Umberto is a man who once had a
very respectable job and has an immeasurable amount of pride. He has to
think about begging in the streets but just can't go through with it. One of
the great things about these Italian neorealist films is that we really do
see what conditions are like in post-war Italy. The authentic locations are
priceless to these films and it also creates a docu-drama feel. DeSica's
"The Bicycle Thief" is my favorite of these type of films but this is also a
The last 20 minutes of this film is tough to watch and it can easily bring tears to the most jaded eyes. Unable to find a new home for Flag, Umberto tries to commit suicide by walking in front of a train with Flagg in his arms. A gut wrenching scene where Umberto is unable to go through with it and Flagg is temporarily upset with his master. The last scene of them together is classic neorealism. Umberto realizes he is a survivor and is just going to try and eke out an existence. The two of them playfully bounding down the road. Umberto's fate is unsure, thats the way life is. We have all come to expect these ambiguous endings and when they're done properly like in this film, it helps to create a truly haunting and memorable experience. Martin Scorsese said in an interview that this is one of his all time favorite films. The man has great taste!
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