Umberto D
directed by Vittorio de Sica
(Criterion, 1952)

I call this post-realism ... but it's still great.

When I plunged into Italian neo-realism -- Paisan, Open City, Bicycle Thief -- I had seen most of the earlier movies before I encountered Umberto D. It took me by surprise. The tough-mindedness of the earlier films did not prepare me for the naked emotion of this story of a proud pensioner trying to maintain his dignity while on the verge of becoming homeless.

He couldn't bear to beg, so he teaches his dog Flike to beg, but couldn't bear to acknowledge it was his dog!

What was this? Sentimental stuff? A man loves his dog? He tries, but fails, at begging? Major pathos? Come on!

So, here I was, thinking Vittorio de Sica had gone all maudlin. Then came the final 20 minutes. I am not ashamed to admit I was reduced to a puddle. Only one other movie ending, La Strada, had had this effect on me.


Umberto gathers up Flike and stands in front of a roaring train.

Umberto is all, we'll go to death together. The dog is, like, get the f#(% out of here!!!

I don't blame that dog a bit for scampering away and hiding. "Whoa, dude, how could you pull such a stunt? Can I still trust you?"

Those who criticize this film from an academic standpoint that it betrayed the unsentimental ideals of neo-realism may be correct. But this is one powerful movie. I'll not apologize for loving it. At least, it doesn't go all Hollywood with "Mr. Umberto, don't you know you're secretly rich?" Who knows what will happen to Umberto and Flike? He's still broke. Nowhere to go. But they are survivors. Dig it.

review by
Dave Sturm

17 October 2009

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