(director: Vittorio De Sica; screenwriter: story by Cesare Zavattini/Cesare Zavattini; cinematographer: Aldo Graziati; editor: Eraldo Da Roma; music: Alessandro Cicognini; cast: Carlo Battisti (Umberto D. Ferrari), Lina Gennari (Landlady), Maria-Pia Casilio (Maria), Elena Rea (Sister), Alberto Albani Barbieri (Landlady’s Fiance, Paolo), Ileana Simova (Surprised Woman), Memmo Carotenuto (Voice of Light); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Giuseppe Amato/Vittorio De Sica/Angelo Rizzoli; The Criterion Collection; 1952-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)
“De Sica somehow manages to avert sentimentality and banality, and his simple storytelling leaves a profound and timeless message.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A fine example of neorealism from Italian director Vittorio De Sica (“Shoeshine”/”The Bicycle Thief”); it’s superbly scripted by Cesare Zavattini from his story. The cast is made up of nonprofessionals, and there’s a truly heartwarming performance by Carlo Battisti who plays Umberto D.. Battisti’s day job was as a professor of philology. The black and white film covers the universal themes of society’s indifference to the elderly and the poor, and mankind’s hurtful loneliness and solitude. The bleak urban melodrama doesn’t share a happy moment until the end.
The film opens in Rome with the police breaking up a peaceful group of protesting pensioners seeking increased benefits. Among them is Umberto D. Ferrari, an elderly retired civil servant (worked for 30 years as a clerk for the Ministry of Public Affairs). Umberto’s small pension is not enough to pay his rent. He only takes pleasure in his cute mongrel fox terrier, and the only person who treats him right is teenager live-in maid, Maria (Maria-Pia Casilio), who works for his haughty and mean-spirited landlady (Lina Gennari). The poor bloke walks around depressed without friends or relatives, as he sells off his possessions (pocket watch and books) to try and meet the rent payment before the end of the month or else face eviction. He feigns sickness to be taken to a Catholic charity hospital, but the doctors release him after a few days saying he’s got tonsillitis but he’s too old to operate on. The landlady out of spite let his dog Flag out on the street when he was gone and he has to rush to the pound to save the dog, his only friend in the cold world. Maria is too self-absorbed in her own problems to be of much help, as the unmarried girl is pregnant and the father is either a soldier from Florence or Naples (she will be fired if the landlady discovers she’s pregnant). When she confronts one soldier, she’s rejected. The depressed pensioner after a turn at begging by the ancient Pantheon fails and his former worker friends don’t bite at his hint at a loan, which leads him to contemplate suicide. But in the end he can’t bear to leave Flag without a loving home and reluctantly decides to live while playing with Flag at a public park.
De Sica films a moving and sympathetic portrait of a dignified man whose plight is really modern mankind’s. It tells how this ordinary man is pushed so far against the wall that he contemplates suicide, but how he never loses his dignity as he struggles to find a way to survive by just living a routine life. The only one who sticks by him is his loyal and well-behaved little dog. De Sica somehow manages to avert sentimentality and banality, and his simple storytelling leaves a profound and timeless message.
REVIEWED ON 11/28/2006 GRADE: A