Umberto D. Review


Umberto D. represents the apogee of the neorealistic part of Vittorio De Sica’s career. After this film, the director will have to reinvent himself with the hybrid Indiscretion of an American Wife, oscillating between neorealism and Hollywood melodrama, as well as with The Gold of Naples where he adds a layer of comedy among the social elements of the film. During, and after the Second World War, De Sica had revealed himself by examining the social reality of Italy through a few major titles: The Children Are Watching Us, Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves) and Miracle in Milan. In these films, the rawness of Cesare Zavattini’s scripts was magnified by the profound sensitivity of De Sica's illustration. Each of the films focused on the description of a childhood whose innocence was broken by the difficult social context, whether it was parental abandonment or manipulation of adults leading to delinquency... In Bicycle Thieves and Miracle in Milan, De Sica had developed this question by putting in place a clean narrative, using simple frames when the drama of the characters interacted with even more force with the social environment. Umberto D. represents the culmination of this approach, succeeding in upsetting the audience with the simple story of an old man who clings to life thanks to the love of his dog.

Umberto D. tells the story of an impoverished retired civil servant, Umberto Domenico Ferrari (Carlo Battisti in his sole cinematic credit), who lives in a rented room in postwar Rome with only his beloved dog, Flike, and a teenage housemaid as companions. Faced with eviction when he can’t keep up with his rent, the old man struggles to make ends meet and maintain his dignity.

With Umberto D. De Sica’s film tackles another form of vulnerability in the face of adversity: old age. From the opening scene, where pensioners demonstrate to increase their pension, the contempt towards this age range is clearly showed when the old men are dispersed without difficulty, and almost comically, by the police. This contempt, Umberto will feel it individually throughout the film. However, whereas in De Sica’s previous films, the children’s youth was threatened but it was still there, in Umberto D., without resources or family, Umberto would be desperately alone without the unfailing love of his dog Flike. He is the only being he has to worry about and who cares for him in return, returning his affection to him without calculation. In the role of Umberto, Carlo Battisti, a professor of linguistics at the University of Florence and a non-professional actor, gives the impression to fall back into childhood and forget the difficulties every time he interacts with his faithful companion.

Additionally, Umberto D. announces the continuation of De Sica’s work by scrutinising the isolation of his characters. Fascism and the War are behind but the wall of individualism Umberto faces announces the cold capitalist world depicted in his 1963 movie The Boom in which people don’t help each other anymore; this is quite clear in one of the first scenes of the movie during which Umberto tries to sell his watch to another old man just after the demonstration, or during later scenes during which former friends and colleagues will appears equally false when Umberto shyly tries to explain his situation. This also leads to one of the most poignant scenes of the film when Umberto dares not resolve to beg.

But Umberto D. is also a way for De Sica to continue his exploration of women, already present in The Children Are Watching Us and which will continue to appear later in his filmography under various forms with Two Women or Marriage Italian Style, with the character of Maria (Maria Pia Casilio, The Adultress) the young servant of the pension which sympathises with Umberto because she shares a similarly uncertain future. The complicity between them is all the more endearing, Umberto being more worried than judge of the situation of Maria, and Maria more compassionate than derisive of the old man’s efforts to subsist with his dog.

De Sica’s direction, and Eraldo Da Roma (Bicycle Thieves)’s montage skills, are also at their best here and, helped by amazing training, they manage to confer striking expressiveness to Flike, making him an actor in its own right and reinforcing the impact of the emotional bond between him and Umberto (to the point of elevating the last ten minutes of Umberto D. among the most upsetting in the history of cinema). De Sica’s final shots achieve to make this simple story of a man and his dog one of the most brilliant piece of cinema ever created.

Despite this and the international acclaim, with Cannes and Oscar nomination, the film was nevertheless a commercial failure and it was castigated by the Italian government, in particular Giulio Andreotti, then Secretary of State for Tourism and the Spectacle, for betraying his country by giving it a pessimistic imagery when the Italian economy was relaunching. A fitting metaphor of the film…


Umberto D. is release on blu-ray disc on 24th April by CultFilms.

The movie has been restored by Mediaset Collection Cinema Forever in collaboration with the Scuola Nazionale di Cinematographica Centro Sperimental di Cinematographica, the Associazione Amici di Vittorio De Sica by Studio Cine e Videorecording, and with Manuel De Sica’s and Director of Photography Giuseppe Rotuno’s artistic and visual supervision (this is what is mentioned on the disc when launching the movie) and it is presented in a 1080p High Definition transfer.

This is a very satisfying presentation of the movie on blu-ray, showing a good amount of details and doing justice to the naturalistic photography of G.R. Aldo (Senso), even if there are some scratches towards the end of the movie. This is in any case not detrimental to the viewing and apart from this minor issue, there are no other traces of dirt, scratches or other defects throughout the movie.

On the sound side, Umberto D. is presented here in a clear LPCM Italian audio track with no apparent defects. The disc also offers English subtitles.

The disc offers only one extra, a 95 minutes documentary entitled Vittorio D., in Italian, French (with English subtitles) and English. It is a tribute to the great director featuring and impressive list of participants including Mario Monicelli (director of The Organizer), Woody Allen (Manhattan), Dino De Laurentiis (producer of La strada), John Landis (The Blues Brothers), Enzo Staiola (actor in Bicycle Thieves), Ettore Scola ( A Special Day), Ken Loach (Kes), Abdelatif Kechich (director of Blue is the Warmest Color), Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies), Tonino Guerra (writer of Amarcord), Giuseppe Rotuno (director of photography of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), Paul Mazurky (director of Down and Out in Beverly Hills), Francis Huster (director of the French remake of Umberto D., Un homme et son chien), Shirley MacLaine (The Apartment), Lina Wertmüller (The Seduction of Mimi), Peter Bogdanovitch (The Last Picture Show), Enzo G. Castellari (Keoma), Clint Eastwood (actor in De Sica’s segment of The Witches, Una Sera Come Le Altre), Arthur Cohn (producer of De Sica’s Sunflower) and the aforementioned Andreotti.

This is a fantastic documentary covering many aspects of De Sica’s career as a singer, actor and director from the 30s to the 70s, and illustrated with pictures and images of the shooting of Umberto D., and others of The Maestro’s movies.

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It could be far better, and it should for such a film, but Cultfilms has produced a very satisfying blu-ray release of Vittorio De Sica's masterpiece for the UK



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