Umberto D. is a bittersweet movie about an elderly man struggling to pay his rent, food, and life expenses. The film was directed by Vittorio De Sica in 1952. It follows the pattern of many films of that era classified as nonrealistic productions. Unlike earlier movies of the Neorealistic genre, in 1952 Europe was finally starting to slightly recover from the war and its economy was looking better. Italy in particular, became very industrialized so there were many changes occurring. Unlike the movies of Roma città aperta or Ladri di biciclette, which focus on the poverty of families, Umberto D. focuses on the poverty of the elderly retired citizens of Rome that weren’t receiving high enough pension for survival. Umberto’s landlord threatens to kick him out of his small room multiple times and has no sympathy for him when he is only a few lires off from fully paying his rent.
Similar to Roma città aperta and Ladri di biciclette the movie opens with a scene involving masses of people suffering by poverty and begging for food, money, or employment. In this movie, there is a protest of older people in hopes of receiving higher pension. One man shouts, “Raise our pensions we worked our whole lives!” The police however do not show any sympathy to the protesters who are gathered without a permit. The police quickly end the protest. Similar to Ladri di biciclette the police seem to play a very unhelpful role. Antonio goes to report his bike stolen and the police state that they cannot do much because these things happen all the time. I believe the directors chose to add in the role of the police to show that with the amount of chaos and crimes occurring, the police were not much help. In a neo realistic sense, it was more realistic that police were not very much involved in people’s issues. The sad and cold truth is that where there is poverty there is crime.
In many situations, characters in neo realistic films are pushed to their breaking point and are forced to do something that is completely humiliating their character as a person. In Roma città aperta Antonio realizes he has no hope finding his bike and does what he had once considered the unthinkable, he steals a bike. To him, this is breaking the law, this is humiliating, this is a horrible example to set for his son, but he does it because he is faced with no other choice. In Umberto D. Umberto is pushed to the point of poverty that he must beg for money on the street. Not wanting to humiliate himself, he has his dog Flike sit on the curb side with a hat in his mouth to beg for money on his behalf. The audience can see the shame in Umberto’s eyes as he hides behind a corner watching Flike, and hoping someone will stop to spare him change, but it had to be done. When this doesn’t work Umberto even fakes being ill to be sent to the hospital where he will be served food for free. In order to survive, he had to completely destroy all of his morals.
Similar to the role of Bruno to Antonio in Ladri di biciclette, it is the dog that plays Umberto’s sidekick in Umberto D. Throughout the many issues the main characters go through in the story, it is there sidekick that continues to support them and keep them willing to stay alive and continue their struggle of life. For example, in Ladri di biciclette Antonio takes Bruno out to eat as a treat when in reality he can’t afford to take him out to eat at all. Umberto in Umberto D. gives up his own ration of food for his dog. So with even the little amount of everything the main characters have, they still choose to support their companion which is what shows true care and compassion in their relationships with one another.
There also seems to be a point in both films where the climax leads the main character to want to give up on life. Umberto contemplates death and even makes the first attempt to jump in front of a train, but it is his dog that saves him. He tries to leave Flike but he will not leave his honor proving him a loyal friend. When he takes his dog to jump on the train tracks with him, the dog shrieks as if to say this is not worth it we need each other. Likewise, Antonio contemplates giving up on finding his bike and not having a job, and it is Bruno that supports him in even the worst of his solutions-committing a crime and stealing a bike. I believe this role of the sidekick is a very comforting and hopeful addition to stories full of such struggle. Although both of these movies end on a bad note, the only real comfort comes from the support of one other.
I particularly enjoyed the character of the dog Flike in Umberto D. but many critics actually felt the character of the dog seemed an “invasive ploy” because it really only highlighted how lonely the old man was, when that was already evident. Umberto had no friends or family, just his dog Flike. Critics have stated, “An audience needs no further prompting to feel the isolation of Umberto Domenico Ferrari”. However, I feel the dog symbolized a family or a friend figure and some audiences weren’t able to see that.
In another contrast, I seemed to find the long, drawn out dramatic scenes without speaking, quite boring. But many critics of today, “tend to like the astringent parts: the long, deliberately undramatic sequences full of mundane activity”. This simply shows that people enjoy different styles of representing a story. But however some scenes were perceived is one thing, but the last scene is one of importance. Very similar to Ladri di biciclette the main character and the sidekick (hero of the story) walk off into the distance and the audience is left to wonder how they will survive and what their future holds. In perspective, it is up to the audience to decide the ending. If you are one for happy endings you can hope that maybe they find money and find food and live happily. If you are more of a realist, you can tell yourself that they never do find that happy ending. It is pretty amazing to think that something can be perceived in two completely opposite ways because of the direction of one scene. This is in my opinion, the art that comes into play with these very talented directors of these neorealist films.
Jimbies on Did You See This?, 2017-02-11. “Seeing Clearly Through Tears: On the Smart
Sentiment of Umberto D.” The Criterion Collection.
Ladri Di Biciclette . Dir. Vittorio De Sica. Prod. Produzioni De Sica. Gerardo Guerrieri, 1948.
Roma, Città Aperta = Rome, Open City. Dir. Roberto Rosselini. Prod. Giuseppe Amato.
Sica, Vittorio De. “Umberto D. (1952).”
“Upon Further Review: Umberto D (1952).” The Focus Pull Film Journal. N.p., 10 Aug. 2014.
Web. 14 Feb. 2017.
COPYRIGHT: CARLY RISTUCCIA
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