Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on rockin’ flatscreen.
What can I say about Vittorio de Sica that I haven’t already said before? He made slice-of-life films about the poor and downtrodden being poor and downtrodden and seemed to love to cut the hearts out of his main characters and his audience. Ladri di Biciclette is one of the most gutting experiences I’ve had watching a film. I was braced for something similar when it came to Umberto D., a film that I’d been warned about. I expected it to be a great film and one that would absolutely tear my heart out. Yes and yes.
Our main character is the eponymous Umberto Domenico Ferrari (Carlo Battisti), an old pensioner who spent his life working for the government. As the film begins, Umberto is protesting for a raise in his pension along with a number of old men. While it seems that many of them simply want more money, Umberto needs the raise to make ends meet and pay off his debts. The small pension he gets is not nearly enough for him to live on, and he owes his landlady(Lina Gennari) a great deal of back rent, which causes her to threaten to evict him.
In fact, unknown to Umberto until he comes home this time, his room has been rented by the hour to a couple who needs it for a little quality private time, which means that couples are doing the nasty on Umberto’s bed when he’s out, which is just wrong. It is here that we meet one of Umberto’s only real friends in the world. This is Maria (Maria Pia Casilio), the serving maid at his boarding house. Maria genuinely likes Umberto and helps take care of him when he is sick. She reveals to him that she has two boyfriends and that one of them has gotten her pregnant. This she needs to hide as best she can, because once her employer finds out, she knows she will be kicked out of the house. Umberto’s other friend is Flike, his dog and constant companion. That night, Umberto attempts to raise some of the money he owes his landlady by selling one of his watches and some books, but raises only a third. She refuses the payment unless he can come up with all of the money at once. When he becomes ill and goes to the hospital, she takes advantage of the situation and sends in workmen to knock down the wall of his room to turn it into an enlarged living area. While in the hospital, Umberto charges Maria to look after Flike, but the dog runs away.
Eventually, Umberto is released from the hospital and finds that his eviction is a real thing and that his dog is missing. In one of the only genuinely happy moments of the film, he goes to the pound and finds Flike. Now desperate and with nowhere to go, Umberto trains Flike to beg for him, which he does until Umberto runs into a friend. Ashamed of his situation, he leaves, and determines that the only course left open to him is to take his own life. The safety and continued health of Flike becomes his only concern before deciding to end it all, and this takes up the final act of the film.
So, yeah, it’s a gut punch. It actually manages to end on as much of an uptick as it can given the story and the situation, and while it’s not a total wrist-slitter, this is not a film I’d plan on showing someone going through an episode of depression. Umberto’s life has become a struggle for mere survival, and he lives at the whim of people who don’t like him, care about him, or notice him. Those who do are powerless to help him in any way. In many ways, what he has become is the greatest fear of many: he has outlived his usefulness and means nothing to anyone save Maria and Flike. Of all the many qualities he may have had in his life, by the time we come to the end, all he has left is just enough dignity to make him feel guilty for becoming a beggar. Oh, we find there’s a little more lurking down there, too, something that didn’t quite escape when the Pandora’s Box of Umberto’s troubles are released. And that little glimmer is nice, but not enough to make this an uplifting film or a triumph of the human spirit.
I realize that this sounds like I didn’t like Umberto D., and that’s the wrong impression. This is a beautiful film and perfectly made. Carlo Battisti is perfectly cast and believable as an old man who has come to the end of his tether and is desperately trying to hang on for one more day. If there’s a weak point, it’s Maria Pia Casilio, who is sometimes wooden in her line delivery, and whose face never really shows any expression.
This is a film that requires the right mood, since it’s a huge bring-down. Don’t watch it if you’re already in a place where the world seems black and dreary. Or maybe that’s the right time. Maybe that slight little boost at the end is all you need to pick yourself up and get moving again. Me? Not so much. I’d save this for a time when I’m mentally prepared to be emotionally flensed.
Why to watch Umberto D.: A human story of pain, suffering, and a life over despite not being quite over.
Why not to watch: You may want to jump out a window.
This movie broke me. Utterly. I will never be able to watch it again. Gut wrenching, whole-body sobs for almost an hour to the point where my hysterical crying was louder than the audio. Dozens upon dozens of tissues.ReplyDelete
Is it a great film? Probably. But I just cannot 'like' a movie for finding one of the most sensitive parts of soul and then spending almost two hours kicking said sensitive part with steel toed boots.
I get that. Really. There are a few movies like that that I'll probably never watch again for exactly that reason. I never feel the need for a good cathartic cry.Delete
Yeah, and any time there's an animal involved...
Thing is, though, I find NOTHING cathartic about this movie. Plenty of movies have made me cry, but in different ways, and I'm all for a good little cry every now and then. Umberto D's crying was in no way "good" or "refreshing" or "cathartic." It was a "hide the razor blades cry." "You'll never see your loved ones again" cry. "Everything is going to shit and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it" cry. Even the ending, the tiny little ray of hope it's supposed to represent, feels horribly depressing. I just can't do that to myself. When I do get around to reviewing this, most likely because the club will force me to as I would never choose to review it on my own, I will do it all from recall. I will. not. watch. this. movie. ever. again.Delete
This is the film that made me sensitive about animals, sensitive to the point of absurdity. Thank you, Umberto D, for ruining every subsequent animal film for me for all eternity.
Again, I don't dispute this as a great film. It was just so unrelentingly traumatic for me.
I can't disagree. It didn't affect me as strongly as it did you, but I certainly understand that point of view, and can easily attach it to this one. I can get from the "it's not a total wrist-slitter" of my view to your "hide the razor blades" without too much work.Delete
I doubt I'll watch it again, either.
This is such a depressing film. Go with your initial thought--don't recommend it to people who are feeling down, as it might push them over the edge. (LOL) de Sica's films are viscerally jarring, but, oh, so wonderful.ReplyDelete
I do like de Sica, but I've found most of his films to be so emotionally devastating that he's a one-and-done director for me.Delete
Have you seen his The Children Are Watching Us? I think that's his best film, but it is a devastating one, too.Delete
I haven't, but I'll put it on the list of what I should watch when I'm done with the 1001.Delete
I liked this better than The Bicycle Thief (aka Bicycle Thieves), mostly because the latter held no surprises in it (hell, the title tells you what's going to happen.)ReplyDelete
It's been a few years since I saw Umberto D., but I don't remember having as big a downer reaction to it as you (and certainly not as much as Siobhan). The last section reminded me of one of the stories in, I believe, 2 Days in the Valley, where a man was similarly trying to find a place for his dog before he killed himself. I saw that before Umberto D., so maybe that lessened the impact.
Grave of the Fireflies and Sansho the Bailiff are two I would pick for being very depressing.
I think I might put The Ballad of Narayama up there.Delete
I haven't seen that one yet. Something to not look forward to.Delete
It's depressing, but it's really, really good.Delete
You clearly liked this movie a lot more than I did. The key, I suppose, is whether you see Umberto as a victim of outside forces or a victim of his own folly. Had the first been the case I might agree with you, but I do not see this man trapped by anything but himself. He is blaming the pension, the landlady, his friends for his misery, but the solutions are not so far away, he just refuses to grasp them, probably out of pride. I am not talking about begging, but his room is sucking out all his money and the reason it is so expensive is that his landlady want him out so she can use it for something else. I feel certain he could have found different lodging that would be much more affordable. To me this was to forced a manipulation of the audience and it missed the mark.ReplyDelete
I think it does work. Umberto is trapped in some ways, and while some of those certainly come from himself, not all of them do.Delete
Hey, if they all worked for all of us, most of us would be unnecessary.