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Review: Umberto D. (1952)

Director: | 88 minutes | | Actors: , , , , ,

Vittorio de Sica is a socially engaged filmmaker. This much became indisputably clear with his best-known and most acclaimed work, the neo-realistic ‘Ladri di biciclette’, which highlights the fate of a at the bottom of society, and in which the father in this family faces morally impossible and heartbreaking choices. when his bicycle, on which he depends on his job, is stolen. De Sica generally criticizes the social policies of the government and the treatment of certain sections of the population in society and in ‘Umberto D.’ he focuses specifically on the care of pensioners. It is a subject that, given the aging population, is still topical, or even more and more topical. That is, if it is or will remain so, that the facilities for this population group leave something to be desired. This was certainly the case in Italy when De Sica made ‘Umberto D.’, which explains why the was not allowed to be shown here for several years.

‘Umberto D.’ paints a rather rosy picture of Italian society and how it deals with its elderly. And, as rhetorical as the film is, and no matter how well-known its structure, ‘Umberto D.’ gradually manages to leave his own impression and to generate genuine sympathy for the title character, not least because he symbolizes the fate of all his peers. The similarities with ‘Ladri di biciclette’ are, apart from the theme, not to be missed. Here too, an articulate group of victims gathers in a square at the beginning of the film. In ‘Ladri’ it was to “beg” for a job, and in ‘Umberto D.’ it is to protest against the low pension that elderly people enjoy in Italy. The crowd is walking around with signs and banners chanting slogans like “We have to eat” or “We have worked hard for thirty years”. The officials do not respond, and the police are even used to drive the pensioners out of one. The message is clear: these people are getting off and treated disrespectfully.

Fine, then it’s time to develop the character and figure out where the story will go next. From this point on, it takes a while for the film to find its rhythm and sense, or at least to communicate it to the viewer. The following scenes often consist of confrontations, often via the maid, between Umberto and the landlady with whom he has rent arrears, and who threatens to throw him out. It always comes down to the same thing: Umberto (Carlo Battisti) has no money and the woman is adamant. She sometimes even rents out his room by the hour to love couples, just to generate income. Not even that incomprehensible. In order not to be evicted from his room, Umberto decides to blow a cold into something big, so that he “must” be hospitalized. There he comes to lie next to someone who, just like him, has nothing wrong with him but simply has to find an affordable place to sleep, and on the other side, an old man who has just passed away and who is left with little respect is discussed. It seems as if the same message is being proclaimed over and over again, somewhat insidiously. In addition, the landlady (Lina Gennari) does not seem to be a justified “enemy”, because the main culprit is the government. And the storyline about the chambermaid (Maria-Pia Casilio) who does not know who she is pregnant from, also seems to be irrelevant. an old man who has just died and who is treated with little respect by the family at the bedside. It seems as if the same message is being proclaimed over and over again, somewhat insidiously. In addition, the landlady (Lina Gennari) does not seem to be a justified “enemy”, because the main culprit is the government. And the storyline about the chambermaid (Maria-Pia Casilio) who does not know who she is pregnant from, also seems to be irrelevant. an old man who has just died and who is treated with little respect by the family at the bedside. It seems as if the same message is being proclaimed over and over again, somewhat insidiously. In addition, the landlady (Lina Gennari) does not seem to be a justified “enemy”, because the main culprit is the government. And the storyline about the chambermaid (Maria-Pia Casilio) who does not know who she is pregnant from, also seems to be irrelevant.

Gradually, however, deeper layers or meanings become visible and the scope of the story expands somewhat. Characters and themes will reinforce each other and character traits become more exciting. The most important realization is that this really is not just about the government, but that the whole of society is in the dock and it is not even purely about caring for the elderly but about compassion for everyone else. Of course, it is a shame that a government does too little for its elderly, but if the rest of the population does not protest and also clearly shows little respect for the elderly, no one will go unpunished. And although the landlady cannot be blamed in principle – after all, she cannot keep her tenants over her head – it does become somewhat crude when it turns out that she only wants to use Umberto’s room to expand her own living room. so that she can receive her friends better. Thus, self-enrichment and status take precedence over compassion and understanding. Understanding for the fellow man who has worked hard all his life and is now being looked at with the neck. In a poignant way, a parallel with his dog comes into view when the landlady arrives at a shelter. Or rather: clearance service. If the dogs are not picked up within a few days, they are systematically killed without looking or blushing. Umberto is not sailing much better, so the statement that he has a dog’s life,

Like the main character in ‘Ladri di biciclette’, Umberto is faced with a difficult choice, which here is more a question of dignity than morality. The old man is about to beg. He even practices holding up his hand on the street, but when a passerby happens to put something in it, Umberto turns his hand around and pretends he was looking at it a bit. Then he lets his dog Flike sit on his hind legs while he has Umberto’s hat in his mouth, to make the creature beg for him, hiding himself behind a pillar. But he cannot continue this because of a feeling of shame when an acquaintance happens to recognize the dog. Even the story of the chambermaid takes on an interesting meaning, when Umberto becomes a father figure to the naive child. Although he has to leave his room, Umberto finds that his life and experience is still quite valuable because of his relationship with this young girl. For example, he gives her fatherly advice about her boyfriends and what to do with the baby, and he notices that she is also affected by this. When the girl with sad eyes sees Umberto leave, she realizes how important this old man is in her life and how much she has come to care about him. It is as if she is a model for the entire young (er) generation that suddenly realizes (or must see) how sad and poignant it is to have to leave the elderly to their fate. ‘Umberto D.’ gradually manages to regain so much of the lost ground. Umberto notices that his life and experience is still quite valuable because of his relationship with this young girl. For example, he gives her fatherly advice about her boyfriends and what to do with the baby, and he notices that she is also affected by this. When the girl with sad eyes sees Umberto leave, she realizes how important this old man is in her life and how much she has come to care about him. It is as if she is a model for the entire young (er) generation that suddenly realizes (or must see) how sad and poignant it is to have to leave the elderly to their fate. ‘Umberto D.’ gradually manages to regain so much of the lost ground. Umberto notices that his life and experience is still quite valuable because of his relationship with this young girl. For example, he gives her fatherly advice about her boyfriends and what to do with the baby, and he notices that she is also affected by this. When the girl with sad eyes sees Umberto leave, she realizes how important this old man is in her life and how much she has come to care about him. It is as if she is a model for the entire young (er) generation that suddenly realizes (or must see) how sad and poignant it is to have to leave the elderly to their fate. ‘Umberto D.’ gradually manages to regain so much of the lost ground. When the girl with sad eyes sees Umberto leave, she realizes how important this old man is in her life and how much she has come to care about him. It is as if she is a model for the entire young (er) generation that suddenly realizes (or must see) how sad and poignant it is to have to leave the elderly to their fate. ‘Umberto D.’ gradually manages to regain so much of the lost ground. When the girl with sad eyes sees Umberto leave, she realizes how important this old man is in her life and how much she has come to care about him. It is as if she is a model for the entire young (er) generation that suddenly realizes (or must see) how sad and poignant it is to have to leave the elderly to their fate. ‘Umberto D.’ gradually manages to regain so much of the lost ground.

The structure is well known and it remains a melodrama that clearly tries to strike the chords with the viewer, but, although some scenes get close, it never becomes unbearable and the non-actors remain – none of them had experience, as is usual in a neorealist film. – act within a realistic framework. In the last scenes of the film it will be difficult to keep it dry, but what continues to predominate is the meaning of the behaviors instead of the emotions aroused. In this way, despite the grim view of society and the depressing tone of the film, the resilience of people remains intact. And the hope and expectation for a better future.

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