Hey there, I’m back again today with a movie review. And it’s from a movement, Italian neo realism and the films associated with. I absolutely love the common thread which connects all of them together and today we’ll be diving deep into one of the them, often considered the most accomplished or the gem of that era.
Italian Neorealist film Umberto D, directed by Vittorio De Sica, is a film that is not meant to brighten your day. In fact, it may be just the opposite. The film is a stark reminder of the harsh realities of poverty and the struggles of the working class. But despite its depressing subject matter, it is a must-watch for any movie enthusiast, I believe.
The film follows the story of Umberto D. Ferrari, an old and ordinary retired man who is struggling to survive on a meager pension. Alongside him is his beloved dog Flike, who serves as his only source of comfort and companionship in his difficult life. The film takes Umberto through a series of unfortunate events, from financial struggles to health issues, and it never once passes a hint of hope. However, it is important to note that the film does not turn Umberto into a pitiable figure. Instead, it is his pride that prevents him from being seen as such. This same pride also prevents him from making choices that could potentially lessen his struggles.
The Scenes Behind
The making of Umberto D was a tedious process for De Sica. He was searching for a specific face to play the character of Umberto, and it was not until he stumbled upon a crotchety old man on the street, Carlo Battisti, that he found the perfect fit. Battisti, who was a linguistics professor, was initially unsure of why De Sica would want him, a man who had never acted before, to star in his film. But eventually, he agreed to take on the role.
Umberto’s first dilemma in the film is that his pension is not enough to pay his rent. His landlady constantly threatens to throw him out, and Umberto is determined to keep his small and run-down apartment. He sells one of his last dear possessions, a dictionary, and tries to sell a pocket watch, but neither of these items bring in enough money to pay the rent. To make matters worse, Umberto becomes ill with tonsillitis and must go to the hospital for treatment.
Before he leaves, he entrusts his dog Flike to be cared for by the landlady’s young maid. But when Umberto returns from the hospital, he finds that his apartment has been destroyed to make room for a living room and that Flike has run away.
Umberto searches for Flike at the city pound, where he witnesses the heartbreaking sight of unwanted dogs being gassed to death in small chambers. Fortunately, Umberto is able to find Flike before he meets the same fate. However, Umberto is now left without a place to stay and with next to no money. He turns to an old friend for help, but his friend, in a hurry to catch a bus, disregards Umberto’s plight and offers no assistance.
Where It Stands Out
One of the most iconic scenes in the film is when Umberto attempts to beg for money in front of the Pantheon. He outstretches his hand reluctantly to an approaching man, but as soon as the man tries to give him some money, Umberto, weakened by his pride, turns his own hand around as if checking for rain. He gives Flike his hat and hides near the Pantheon’s pillars, but no one bothers to drop any money into the hat. Between the massive pillars, Umberto appears withered and entirely insignificant. The pillars may reflect society: powerful, capable, but cold and unwilling to help those who are worn out and can do nothing in return.
Umberto is left with no choice but to consider suicide as a way to escape all of his problems and the harsh reality of life. He first attempts to find out someone to adopt Flike, but even this proves impossible. It’s clear that his sole companion, the dog Flike is just as unwanted as Umberto himself. However, It’s only through the dog that Umberto finds any sense of comfort and happiness.
At the end, Umberto, determined to not leave his beloved dog Flike to just wander the streets, decides to bring with him as he approaches a set of train tracks. Just as the train is approaching, Flike breaks free from Umberto’s grasp and runs away, causing Umberto to also step away from the danger of the tracks.
Reaching The End
In the last few scenes, we notice Umberto trying to reunite with his beloved dog Flike in a park, but the furry companion is initially hesitant to approach his owner for sometimes due to the earlier event. The movie concludes with Umberto trying to encourage Flike to play with him again using a pine cone, but the situation remains unresolved.
This ending does not provide a solution to Umberto’s many struggles, and it is unclear if he will continue to struggle or return to the train tracks. Despite being unpopular in Italy, Umberto D. was well-received in other countries and is considered a poignant representation of poverty and human isolation. Even today, there are countless individuals facing similar struggles as Umberto, who go unnoticed by society more often than not .
A great film about what it is like to stand by and watch helplessly as you slip into poverty and even your dignity becomes excess baggage.— Martin Scorsese on Umberto D.