Friday, July 3, 2009

Umberto D

Vittorio de Sica, 1952, Italy, bw (9.6*)

For me, this is de Sica’s masterpiece, a poignant and touching tale of an elderly man with no family, and he dedicated the movie to his own father. The brilliance of this film is that the two main stars are both non-professional actors. De Sica chose professor Carlo Battisti to play a retired pensioner who can barely feed his dog. The defeated pathos flows from Battisti’s expressions and one can see the wars and depression etched in everything he does. This is perhaps the best performance ever by an amateur actor.

In Umberto’s rooming house is a young maid of simple beauty, who sparkles with life, kindness, and optimism; De Sica cast 15 year old student Maria Pia Casilio from an audience that showed up to watch his auditions. She is literally in the same boat as Umberto, trapped in the house, working for a cutthroat, unsympathetic landlady who rents Umberto’s room by the hour for liaisons if she thinks he’s not around, and who wants to evict him altogether for being a little behind in rent. She is perfectly natural in the part, and often acts with just her body language, such a silent scene in the kitchen where she prepares coffee. Her character extends Umberto the only real kindness he finds, other friends can’t wait to escape his conversation, while she is his only visitor once when he's sick.

The star of the film for me is Flike, Umberto’s little Jack Russell terrier and his only loyal friend in the world. Umberto’s own actions center around the dog, and the audience’s emotions as well. Rarely has an animal been used so effectively in a film, doing tricks when asked, skulking away when hurt; in general, stealing hearts and scenes both. I would give this a 10 but, like most early neorealism, it’s just a little too depressing witnessing an elderly person who has lost all hope – this is still easier to take than The Bicycle Thief, however. #53 on our Top Ranked 1000, higher than the critics only poll. Cesare Zavattini’s screenplay was nominated for an Oscar®.

[Note: some commenter at IMDB said 'he should just go get a job'! People's ignorance of history, wars, depressions, economics, poverty, and in this case the harsh reality of growing old never ceases to amaze me. There will always be poor, unemployed, the elderly, and hungry people; they are not out of work or poor because they want to be or haven't made an effort, but because of society's failure to provide for everyone. Umberto was a retired government worker who spent a lifetime in service and is now broke as a result, that is his story and the story of millions: he was never paid enough to live comfortably in retirement. This is why De Sica and others made films like this, so we can try to work together to become more humane. A government that can't take care of the elderly has failed, in my opinion. The neorealist movement in cinema was, as De Sica said, "about getting out of the stuido and filming real life in the streets".]


stephentan82 July 8, 2009 at 12:21 AM  

You should write smoething about transformer II. :D

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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