Sunday, October 25, 2015
Rome. Umberto, a retired official of the Ministry, participates in a protest of elderly people demanding higher pensions. The authorities disperse the protesters, and Umberto returns to his apartment with his beloved dog Flaik, only to find his room was borrowed by his landlord, Antonia, to a couple for a fling. Antonia intends to throw him out if he does not pay the rent of 15,000 lira, so Umberto has to sell his watch and beloved book to collect some cash. His only friend in the apartment is Maria, but even she is preoccupied with her pregnancy, since she is not sure who the father is. Due to bad health, Umberto goes to the hospital, but then has to go to the dog pound to find Flaik, who ran away while he was away. Finally, Umberto decides to commit suicide with Flaik, but the dog bites him and runs away. Umberto follows him and plays with him in the park.
A magnificent masterpiece, a wonderfully simple and basic story, "Umberto D." is one of the most emotional and saddest movies of the 20th century, and arguably Vittorio De Sica's finest achievement. Some movies are assembled out of education, perfectionism, knowledge, film style and cinema rules - but every now and then a movie shows up that is assembled only out of pure humanity, and outperforms them anyway. "Umberto D." is able to be both neutral, professional and restrained as well as deeply emotional and compassionate due to a sophisticated, quiet, subtle, simple and considerate direction as well as restrained, authentic and unbelievably convincing performances by the actors, whose characters seem like real people and their small, "trivial" problems close and easily recognizable. The main protagonist Umberto cannot understand people around him, but these people do not understand him, either (when he meets his old acquaintance on the town square, it is obvious he is practically beging him to lend him money, but the man is unwilling - or unable - to do anything for him), and the leitmotiv in the story is his dog Flaik, his only true friend, while this owner-pet relationship seems to have influenced later films (Mazursky's "Harry & Tonto", for instance).
There is a quietly brilliant little sequence that slowly advances into a big highlight of the entire movie: after returning from hospital, Umberto finds out that Flaik ran away and immediately goes to the dog pound to search for him. The Taxi driver demands 200 lira, but Umberto has only a 1,000 lira bill, while the driver has no change. Umberto thus goes to some nearby shop and asks the clerk if he can change a 1,000 lira bill, but the vendor says he doesn't have any change. Umberto thus buys a cup from him for 50 lira, and gets 950 lira as change from that same vendor. Umberto gives the change to the Taxi driver, and in the same move, throws and breaks the cup on the street. He rushes to the dog pound and observes the room where dogs are killed. The moment when he finds Flaik is remarkable and beautifully all-encompassing. De Sica is able to slowly craft numerous wonderful little moments, all leading to a small jewel, which can be both interpreted as a slice of his neorealism movement depicting poverty (here among the senior citizens) as well as an optimistic fairy tale that subtly deviates from it. The ending is indeed one of his most discussed ones in De Sica's career, since it brought numerous interpretations due to rich symbolism, and one of most poignant ones could be that friendship and devotion can be stronger than tragedy.