Foreign Films For Newbies: Umberto D


It’s the final week of my spotlight on good foreign films for newbies. And I’ve saved a powerful film for my final selection. It’s Vittorio De Sica’s heartbreaking 1952 masterpiece Umberto D. The tale of an elderly man and his dog struggling to make it on the man’s government pension has more depth than you would expect. It only runs 1 hour and 29 minutes. But it remains one of the most moving films I have ever seen.

As the film opens, police are dispersing a street demonstration of elderly men who are demanding a raise in their pensions. Among them is Umberto Ferrari (Carlo Battisti). When Umberto returns to his rented room, he learns his landlady has rented his room out. She threatens him with eviction if he cannot come up with his overdue rent by the end of the month. He sells a few of his possessions, but comes up with only a small amount of what he owes. The landlady will not accept a partial payment.

Umberto does garner sympathy from maid Maria (Maria Pia Casilio). Unfortunately Maria has troubles of her own. She’s pregnant and doesn’t know who the father is.

Umberto then becomes ill with tonsilitis. He stays in the hospital for a few days. When he is discharged, he comes to his room to find it with a gaping hole in the wall and workmen renovating the whole place. As if losing his living space isn’t bad enough, his dog Flike has gone missing. The maid was looking after Flike. But a door was left open and he got loose.

Umberto takes off for the city pound, and is relieved to find Flike. However, all is not well. Umberto pleas with a friend for a loan to no avail. Unable to bring himself to beg on the street, Umberto considers suicide. But he has to make sure Flike is taken care of first. He packs up his things and leaves the apartment. Umberto then tries to find a new home for Flike. None of them work out. Out of ideas, Umberto takes Flike for a walk on a railroad track. They nearly get hit by a speeding train, which briefly frightens Flike into hiding. But Umberto mends fences with Flike, and the film endless with the penniless Umberto in the park with Flike.

Umberto D is the type of movie you really see anymore. It’s a real slice of life. The story is basically how a man and a dog struggle to survive in poverty. The film doesn’t have fancy special effects, splashy sets, etc. It’s a devastating and moving character study. It addresses real issues of poverty and how we care for the elderly. But it never comes across as preachy.

Part of the film’s brilliance is its simplicity. It doesn’t reek of self-importance as lesser films do. Umberto D hits you right in the feels, especially at the very end when we really see how deep Umberto’s bond is with his dog. If the ending doesn’t move you, at least a little bit, you’re not human. This is the film to see for an introduction to Italian neo realism. It’s a small movie. But it has a big heart.


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