Umberto D (1952)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Slice of Life  |   Run Time - 89 min.  |   Countries - Italy   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Elbert Ventura

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.