Directed by Vittorio de Sica (1952)
Starring: Carlo Battisti, Maria Pia Casilio, Lina Gennari
This is exactly the kind of movie dog lovers would bawl their eyes at. And look at that dog! Adorable. But Umberto D. is firmly located in a time and place – Rome, post World War II, when there was still rubble to clean away and mandatory retirement has left Umberto Domenico Ferrari in a very tight situation. The movie opens with a protest for higher pensions, reminiscent of the Occupy movement. Umberto is a tenant behind on his rent with a callous woman as his landlord. His only friends are his dog Flike and the maid, Maria, although she’s concerned about her pregnancy.
It’s an Italian Neorealist masterpiece, and it is so sad. Umberto is crushed by his circumstances, trying desperately to find enough money to pay for his back rent. It’s a case study of being nickeled-and-dimed by societal pressures: from buying food and rent to paying for a doctor. Even the landlady rents out rooms for couples, although for her it is to maintain her lifestyle. She wants to remove Umberto just to make her sitting room larger.
It’s beautiful in its starkness – whether around the streets or in the apartments, the clean lines juxtapose against the crumbling areas of characters’ lives.
I can’t rank Umberto D. comfortably against the other films of this movement. It’s not as relatable as The Bicycle Thieves, but I remember it better than Rome, Open City. I’m just not at the point that Umberto is in his life. Even Maria’s problem – getting a soldier to take responsibility for her pregnancy seems pretty distant. The lynchpin of the movie is the dog. I was so much more concerned about Flike than any other character in this movie, which means I’m terrible, but damn that dog! That dog broke my heart.