Thursday 12 March 2015

Umberto D (1952)

Umberto D.
These are stressful days with work and it has taken a long time to get to this, the next movie on the List.

This movie is “Umberto D”, another Italian neo-realist movie, this time by Vittorio De Sica. De Sica scored a massive hit with “Ladri di biciclette” which was a movie I picked for my top 10 of the forties, so I was hopeful going into this one hoping that he would hit the same nerve.

This time the poor fellow suffering the injustices of the world is an old man, Carlo Battisti as Umberto D. Ferrari, who is alone in the world but for his dog and the maid (Maria-Pia Casilio) of his landlady. The landlady (Lina Gennari) needs his room for personal use and want him to move out with the excuse that he has not paid the exorbitant rent.

Umberto D. tries to raise money but fails and decides to kill himself. It turns out to be hard to find a good place for his dog and in the end the dog saves him from being run over by a train and now both are happy.

That is really all.

To say that I was disappointed by this movie is to put it mildly. I understand that this is about a fellow who has nothing left but his dignity and clings to it desperately and when that is gone there is nothing left. Fine, but I am sorry, it does not work. Umberto comes about as an unpleasant, deluded and quarrelsome old man, permanently at war with the world. I know this type of person, they always need somebody they can fight and Umberto has plenty. Because of this his precious dignity becomes a hollow pride and he acts downright stupid. Frankly I do not like him and in order to root for him and feel the pain of his plight you need at least some sympathy.

A good example is Umberto’s desperate fight to stay in his room. It is so obvious that he cannot stay. The landlady wants him out, the rent is raised beyond his pension and they even trash his room. Take a hint, dude, and find another place. I am pretty sure there are other places with lower rent and nicer rooms where he could stay. Move to a village! Nothing is keeping him in town and it would be good for his dog. But nope, the idiot has decided this is the battle his must fight and win. Nobody is kicking him out!

His expedition to the hospital is also a bit of a mystery. Is he just feeling sorry for himself? Or is it an attempt at avoiding the landlady? He does not seem very sick though. Certainly not when he can run around after his dog.

The relationship between Umberto and his dog Flike is played for full emotional effect. It is a nice dog all right, but the way Umberto deals with it you would think it was his child. Well, there are many people like that and I can respect that, it is okay. Here however it is played to the effect that we must feel sorry for him that he has no human relations so instead his emotional outlet is his dog. When the dog gets lost Umberto goes looking for it as if it was the bicycle in “Ladri di biciclette”. At the city pound he is shocked to see the dogs and there is a clear reference to Nazi gas chambers when he witness a group of docile dogs being send in to be killed. Finding Flike is literally saving its life. It is upsetting but it is also obvious manipulation and because of that it loses its edge.

The neorealist films wants us to pay attention to social and socio-economic problems, whether it be poverty or unemployment or what not. Here I guess it is lonely senior citizens. The trouble is that this guy has decided to be lonely and is just not nice enough to anybody but his dog to really deserve company. The closest thing he has to a friend is the maid. She treats him nicely, but in return he plays the strict father or simply ignores her. Certainly he does not seem particularly concerned with her plight (she is pregnant and the father does not want to recognize her).

I frankly do not understand why this movie has and maintains a place on the List. I recently saw De Sica’s “Miracolo a Milano”, which is a much better and far more interesting film, but alas, not to be found on the List. Switch those two movies. That would be the only logical thing to do.

“Umberto D” is an uninteresting story about an unlikeable old man who wants to kill himself. I did not need to see that.


  1. Miracle of Milan is a happy movie. Those aren't allowed on the list. Only movies that makes you depressed show true art. (I'm kidding. Sort of.)

    As a whole de Sica hasn't done as much for me as he seems to have done for others. I spent the entire length of The Bicycle Thief knowing what was going to happen because of the title, so when it finally did it was anticlimactic. (And now they've retitled it Bicycle Thieves in the U.S. just to make it even more obvious.)

    Having said this, I didn't have most of the problem with Umberto D. that you did. I put it on par with Bicycle Thieves in that I can see why a lot of people love it even if it didn't have that big an impact on me.

    1. I agree with you on the comedies. The List is very short on them and they do not get much recognition.

      With The Bicycle Thief I think it is about hitting a nerve. I can relate to the father and son, their despair feels real and present. Umberto however is an annoying old fart that I cannot relate to at all. I feel no nerve here.

  2. I have actually owned this DVD for several years but never watched it because I thought it would just be too depressing. You don't make me any more eager to watch it but watch it I will. I haven't seen Miracle in Milan. The one I loved by De Sica, in addition to Bicycle Thieves, was The Children are Watching Us.

    1. I can definitely recommend the Miracle in Milan movie. That is a good one waiting for you. You should be hitting 1952 pretty soon, no?
      Skipping Umberto D is not a big miss. Not because it is depressing. Actually the opposite. It fails to be depressing. The depressing thing is that it is recognized as a masterpiece.