Umberto D.: De Sica’s Highlight of Italian Neo-Realism

A highlight of Vittorio De Sica’s directing career, Umberto D. embodies all the best qualities of Italian neorealism: humanistic perspective, simple (and sentimental) narrative, on-location shooting, heavy reliance on non-professional actors, and empathy for the tale’s protagonists (usually victims of society).

Grade: A- (**** out of *****)

Umberto D.
UmbertoD.jpg

In 2005, Time Magazine included Umbero D in its All-Time 100 Movies, and it is said that it was one of Ingmar Bergman’s favorite features.

The opening scene depicts the police dispersing a street demonstration of elderly men demanding raise in their meager pensions. Umberto D (Domenico) Ferrari (played by civilian Carlo Battisti), a retired government worker, is one of the protestors.

In his absence, his landlady (Lina Gennari) has rented his room out for an hour to an amorous couple. She threatens to evict Umberto if he doesn’t pay his long overdue rent. Selling his watch and books is not sufficient and the landlady refuses to accept partial payment.

Meanwhile, the sympathetic housemaid (Maria Pia-Castilo), his only reliable friend other than his dog, confides in Umberto that she is pregnant, but is unsure which of two soldiers is the father.

Umberto checks himself into a hospital, but is discharged after a few days. When he returns home, he finds workmen renovating the place. The landlady is getting married, and his s[ace is to become part of a larger living room.

When Flike runs away, Umberto rushes to the city pound and is relieved to find his dog.  He contemplates suicide, but first must find shelter for Flike. His efforts, first with a couple who board dogs, and then with a little girl prove futile. When Flike plays with the children, Umberto slips away.

Despite Umberto’s attempts to abandon Flike, the dog finds him hiding under a footbridge. In desperation, Umberto takes the dog in his arms and walks on to a railway track, but the frightened dog flees.

In the end, though still homeless and destitute, he starts playing with Flike in the park, thus reaffirming his love for the dog and his determination to live.

Critical Status

The film played at the 1952 Cannes Film Fest.

Released in the U.S. in 1955, it won Best Foreign Film from the New York Film Critics Circle.

Oscar Context:

Cesare Zavattini, De Sica’s frequent collaborator, was nominated for the Best Writing Oscar, Motion Picture Story, but he didn’t win.

Credits:

Directed by Vittorio De Sica
Produced by Rizzoli-De Sica-Amato
Written by Cesare Zavattini (story and screenplay)
Music by Alessandro Cicognini
Cinematography G. R. Aldo
Edited by Eraldo Da Roma
Distributed by Dear Film

Release date: January 20, 1952 (Italy); November 7, 1955 (USA)

Running time: 89 minutes