Umberto D. (1952)

Director:  Vittorio De Sica
Cast:  Carlo BattistiMaria Pia CasilioLina Gennari
Plot:  Umberto Domenico Ferrari, an elderly and retired civil servant, is desperately trying to maintain a decent standard of living on a rapidly dwindling state pension.

Genre:  Drama

Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Writing.  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).
Runtime:  91min
Rating:  PG

Oscar-nominated for Best Writing, Umberto D. is a film biography of a fictional aged man living in post-war Italy whose pension is unable to support him through his final years.  

Staying in a rented room of a building owned by a scheming landlady, Umberto struggles to pay his rent and is literally living on borrowed time in the compound.  He falls ill with a throat infection one day, and goes on medical welfare for about a week, before returning to his hellhole to find out that his room is vandalized and is almost inhabitable.

The film has two central characters, and relies on them almost completely - Umberto and his faithful, loving dog, Flike.  The relationship between both is at times strained, but is mostly of an affectionate nature.  Through the ups and downs of this particular relationship, Umberto realizes the joy of living comes as simply as it gets.  

He knows his days are numbered (due to poor physical and financial health), and has even contemplated suicide.  But because the bond between him and Flike is so well-forged, he is unable to handle the fact that when he himself is gone, would his dog be able to survive?

Umberto and Flike need each other to keep moving in life no matter how dire the circumstances are.  Throughout the film, viewers will witness this aspect.  Moreover, Umberto doesn't wallow in pity (he cannot see himself as a street beggar).  The pride and self-respect that he has allow him to face a bleak life with more optimism and dignity than most.  

Director Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves, 1948) uses non-professional actors here with stunning results.  There's never a moment of cheap emotional manipulation that’s vacant and devoid of sincerity.

Another likable trait of Umberto D. is its cinematography.  Beautifully-composed shots of old rustic streets of Italy are integrated with that of its elegiac architecture, giving viewers an opportunity to view 1950s Italy in its full glory.  

De Sica's neorealist drama may not be appreciated by most due to its limited prints and lack of appeal in today's society.  Like Renoir's The Rules of the Game (1939), Umberto D. is at times a flawed masterpiece, but it holds together like a true motion picture classic of its time.

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)

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