Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Umberto D. (De Sica. 1952)

"Umberto doesn't care if we love him or not. That is why we love him."

Have you ever had one of those days where you just need a really good cry? You know, when things are at a dull point and you just need something to help you feel like crap? I never have these days- because I am a man. But for the rest of you I would recommend Italian neo-realism. This is a heavily represented genre on the 1077 Films to See Before You Die, and my first experience with it was Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D..

Italian neo-realism is a genre that does not need a happy ending. Films of this style usually follow the post World War citizens of Italy and how the deal with economic pressures. The heroes of these films are usually very poor and struggle to stay above the water of their countries downward economy. Umberto D. is not an exception to this rule.

The film tells the story of Umberto Ferrari. He is an elderly man living off of a pension that does not even cover his living expenses. His landlord is a selfish and wicked lady who is evicting him so she can turn his room into a temple for adulterers. Though Umberto does eventually befriend the maid, his only real friend in the world is his dog, Flike. Umberto is struggling to live his life of poverty without losing his dignity. He does not want to be reduced to a beggar on the streets, but he is without a home or any other options.

An interesting aspect of neo-realism is that the filmmakers wanted the films to be as emotionally raw as possible. Because of this, De Sica decided to cast non-professional actors in Umberto D. This created an emotional clasp around the viewer because they easily related to the poor man's story. You are not watching an actor pretend to struggle. You are watching Umberto Ferrari, an elderly Italian man, as he tries to survive.

One of the most heart-tugging scenes in Umberto D. is when Flike runs away while Umberto is in the hospital. He is eventually found at the dog pound in a moment that is perfect for the cinema. Umberto and Flike share a man-dog embrace that is shot in an incredibly original way. De Sica and his amateur actors do not try to force you to tears. They are so natural and believable that the tears start to flow on their own. It really is an amazing acting phenomenon.

I almost forgot to mention that Umberto D. is, on the surface, about a man trying to commit suicide. He cannot let himself become a beggar, but he also cannot leave his beloved Flike to fend for himself. The story ends with Umberto staying alive for the love of man's best friend. These two need each other. They live for each others' happiness. But still, the ending of Umberto D. is not uplifting. We are not treated to a greater message about the joys of life. Instead, we are left wondering how Umberto will survive on the streets without a home. We are sad for him because we know his happiness will not last.

Umberto D. is shot in a beautiful black and white that does not look dated or scratchy at all. It is in Italian, so you will have to read the heartbreaking dialogue. But a film as great as this one is worth reading. Italian neo-realism has the power to ruin your day, but it is also one of the most honest and powerful genres in film. Umberto D. is a showing in sympathy that you cannot pass up.

Umberto D.: B+

My next film......Paranormal Activity (Peli. 2007)

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