Frequently mentioned on lists of masterpieces of modern cinema, Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D. transforms a simple character study into a painfully poignant drama. Umberto is an aging former civil servant, now retired on his scant government pension. He spends his time in his tiny room in Rome, with only his longtime pet dog for companionship. His lonely life only grows worse when his limited income forces him to fall behind on his rent, leading his landlady to threaten him with eviction. He makes a desperate attempt to raise the needed money and protest the unfair treatment of senior citizens to the government, but he receives little response. His one chance at human contact, through brief conversations with a pregnant servant, proves sadly disappointing. Indeed, Umberto slowly becomes convinced that the situation may be hopeless, and he ultimately considers committing suicide. Considered one of the high points of Italian neo-realist cinema, Umberto D. provides the ultimate example of the movement's unadorned, observational style, which emphasizes the reality of events without calling attention to their emotional or dramatic impact. The unschooled, natural performances also contribute to the film's feeling of verisimilitude, particularly the lead performance by non-actor Carlo Battisti.
A masterpiece of Italian neorealism, Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D. would also prove to be the last great film from the movement. This poignant story about a poor retiree facing eviction dutifully follows the neorealist template, with its plotless narrative, location shooting, and nonprofessional actors. Not unlike the movement's other exemplars, Umberto D. doesn't entirely sidestep sentimentality. Indeed, any movie about an old man and his faithful ? and amazingly well-trained ? dog is bound to come across as cute or cloying at certain points. Nonetheless, the purity of expression is undeniable. De Sica captures the vicissitudes of a difficult life with unblinking earnestness and affectless nobility. His moral outrage tempered by his eloquent style, De Sica laces this social tract with a touch of tenderness; it's a graceful movie about callousness and despair. It's a film of unexpected beauties as well. One scene in particular stands out, a seemingly extraneous bit about the landlady's maid rising for the day and doing her early morning chores. Neither advancing the movie's plot nor its political agenda, this sublime scene comes closest to approximating the stated neorealist dictum of capturing dailiness unvarnished. Apparently, the dailiness was too much for some: despite winning international praise, De Sica's portrait of an indifferent society was savaged by some politicians for presenting a negative view of Italy to the world.
* Audio commentary by Dr Gino Moliterno, Head of Film Studies, Australian National University
* Insert Essay by Peter Kemp, lecturer in Cinema Studies, RMIT University
* Original Theatrical trailer