Home > Sunday Screening Films, Uncategorized > 2/28/2010 Sunday Screening #15: Umberto D

2/28/2010 Sunday Screening #15: Umberto D

From the Altmanesque stylings of Nashville we take you this week to the world of Italian Neorealism. My first introduction to this genre was during my Film History class at UT. We screened Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, which introduced much of the world to the genre when it won the Grand Prize at Cannes in 1946. The films in this genre are marked by a style that was created out of necessity post World War II, most of the actors were non-professional and the films were shot on location with available light. Many of the stories presented in Italian Neorealism films center on the working class. This weeks film is available on on Netflix Instant View. I was unable to find an official trailer, but I did find this nifty 30 second intro that was created for one of those mail-order film clubs that were popular at some point. Hope you enjoy Umberto D.

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  1. March 1, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    Where to start with this movie? Did I like, it? Not particularly. Was it bad? No, just didn’t do much for me…

    I started this movie with high hopes, I really enjoyed Rome, Open City when I screened it several years ago, and was expecting that this movie would also be one that I enjoyed. I tweeted “Red Wine and Italian Neorealism in the form of Umberto D” and then started the film. I’ll be honest here, I haven’t been the greatest at watching all of the films, and this one being on Netflix Instant Viewing made it hard to not watch it. So the movie started and I sat and watched…and at about the 40 minute mark, I tweeted “40 minutes into Umberto D, when does the plot start? Also, I switched from wine to whiskey.” (the change was due to the fact that the wine had run out, not a comment on the movie). But I was pretty bored at this point in the movie, but luckily I stuck with it and started to get interested. I felt the last 30 or so minutes of the film were the strongest, but that it still lacked much in the way of plot.

    I’m glad that Mr Umberto didn’t jump in front of that train with Flike. The dog was maybe the most interesting part of the movie to me, especially when he was begging for money.

    What’d you think?

  2. March 1, 2010 at 12:31 PM

    Umberto D is one of those films that I have no idea why I wanted to see it except that Criterion released it and I liked Bicycle Thieves a lot. I didn’t know anything about the story going in and didn’t really try to figure it out.

    Much like Paul, I didn’t really connect to the film. Not because it bored me or seemed largely plotless, but because I hated watching this man get constantly beat down. It was relentless. Clearly, the film wasn’t trying to make me feel good about life in post-war Italy, so that’s really my limitation. It really struck me how evil everyone with a job was. Especially since many pedestrians seemed so willing to give money to people on the street.

    At the end of the film, I don’t really take much solace that the man was happy playing with his dog. It felt more like a momentary respite and he’ll be suicidal again soon enough.

    Some observations:
    — If you want to make a person sympathetic, make their best friend a dog that can do cute tricks.

    — The maid’s hand gestures were insanely annoying.

    — I find it mildly interesting that Paul and I seem to feel the same about this film, but loved other de Sica films. Encourages me to keep pursuing his films.

    • LMM
      March 2, 2010 at 3:58 PM

      Maria’s hands were a bit annoying…though part of me wants to steal some of her moves. I’m already expressive with my hands when I talk.

  3. March 1, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    I love neorealism, and have always wanted to watch this film. I’m now really glad this was screened on SundayScreenings, since I think Umberto D is an excellent companion piece to Bicycle Thieves.

    First off, I love the story’s simplicity. I think it’s daring for a dramatic film to focus just on a few characters and seemingly one basic external struggle, because you risk making a meandering, unsatisfying film. In Umberto D.’s case, the performance of nonprofessional actor Carlo Battisti gave the film so much heart that I could watch him do any assortment of random things and not get bored. I liked that he was crabby, beaten-down, crafty (making a bigger deal of his fever so that he goes to the hospital was a wonderful part of the film), tempted by his darkest urges and yet time and time again rescued by a nagging sense of humanity and compassion. Only at the end does that latter aspect of his character fail him, but to me that adds to the realism of the character.

    I didn’t find Umberto’s hardships to be overstated or too one-note. It felt true to life and probably a pretty accurate depiction of how life sucked for many poor, elderly people in post-war Italy. But more than that, it’s a movie about a man’s soul, his faltering sense of hope in the face of unyielding adversity, and this has to be one of the best cinematic portrayals of that universal dilemma that I’ve seen.

    I also love how Umberto’s relationship with Flike (odd name for a dog in Italy) grows organically out of the story, and by the last third of the film really takes center stage. You don’t get a sense of that at the outset, where the main struggle seems to be about a conflict between Umberto and the landlady. That is a main narrative thread that drives a lot of what happens, but clearly by the film’s end, the film focuses more squarely on the canine relationship, and the way that was handled gradually made the story feel, again, very true to life and satisfying.

    One of Nate’s observations (the first one) made me think, “Is the film using the dog’s innate cuteness as a crutch to make Umberto more appealing?” After thinking about it a bit, I don’t think so. Certainly, Filke adds to his character’s appeal, and ultimately becomes his salvation in a way, but Umberto’s struggles, frustration, moments of irritation and darkness were so understandable, realistic, and humanistically portrayed that I felt for him on those grounds alone.

    And lastly, I love the ending. It doesn’t need to go any further, because the film ends in a moment that encapsulates the potential for Umberto to never give up hope, and that’s ultimately what the film’s main concerns is: will the darker forces in him take over, given all the hardships he’s experienced? The answer seems to be yes, but at the last minute an understandable, unexpected moment gives Umberto an opportunity to regret his decision and give in to a more compassionate moment. Whether it’s momentary or permanent, in my mind, is not the point. The point is that there’s always that potential for hope, waiting to be acted upon, regardless of what the ultimate fate of the character will be.

    And that it’s characterized by him playing with his dog while he’s completely homeless and out of money – such an innocent, almost childlike moment during a very serious situation – makes it all the more affecting. The film is wise to end here, because any other ending would’ve been too predictable or too contrived. It’s a perfectly bittersweet ending for the story.

  4. LMM
    March 2, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    I fall somewhere in the middle of the three of y’al.

    I enjoyed this movie, though not as much as The Bicycle Thief, yet at times it was really hard for me to watch.

    I loved the locations and the way the movie felt and looked. The Neorealism genre is something that I really like, and I guess in a way try to modernize in my own scripts. I was interested in the characters, and wanted to watch them, unlike in Nashville where I got bored after a while and frustrated cause I didn’t know more. I was okay with not knowing more about Maria and her whorish ways, which seemed odd, yet fit. The landlady was a complicated character, and I was okay with not knowing more. I was able to stay my distance, and I was fine.

    I wanted the patient he met at the hospital to pop up again towards the end, but the more I think of it, he’s that person that comes in your life at the right time and helps you just in the way you need to be helped.
    Umberto became happier, and he tried to live a happy life, but then the shit hit the fan again. I didn’t feel like it was thrown in your face, or felt like he couldn’t get a break. That’s life, and you have to do what you can, what’s best for you. He decided to move on then live in a half demolished room and a horrible landlady. Even though he didn’t have a place to go, he still had to take care of himself.

    However, two things didn’t sit well with me.
    First, it was really hard for me not to turn the movie off when they showed the dogs going into the kilm. I mean, I know that happens, but I don’t have to see it. And they weren’t even dead yet! That is not okay with me.
    Second, I didn’t like the end because Umberto was a douche to his own dog, who’s awesome. It was really hard for me to feel anything but hatred towards him at the end of the movie. He tried to kill himself and his dog, but realizes it’s not the answer, so let’s go play with the dog because he’s upset? I ended up getting upset at Flike cause he came back. Dogs and their loyalty.

    Overall I was happy with this movie, but the end made me hate him. At least it was at the end.

    • March 5, 2010 at 12:06 AM

      As a dog lover, I definitely relate to how you felt about the kiln and train scene at the end. These scenes ultimately didn’t bother me too much, because I just felt they were part of the telling of the story – and that they were tastefully done and not there gratuitously (no music or sounds of dogs in pain or anything like that during the kiln scene, and the final moment felt like such an insightful and necessary moment in Umberto’s development as a character that the film would suffer without it). Still, the idea of a dog kiln makes me quite uncomfortable and I was glad when the scene was over.

      Flike was awesome. In a way, he’s the hero of the story.

      • LMM
        March 5, 2010 at 9:20 AM

        I’m very happy that they did the scene tastefully, with no sounds and whatnot. I think that made it even bleaker (that a word?) and connected to the outcome of Umberto.

        I still can’t forgive Umberto for trying to take his dog with him. I completely understand not wanting to live without your pet or want your pet with you till the end, but it just seemed so selfish to me. Even though Flike didn’t want to leave his owner, he would of found a loving home, he’s awesome. Everyone is entitled to a selfish act, and you tend to do that more when you’re at your wits end, but taking a friend who’s always been there for you, not okay with me. It was hard for me to come back after that.

        Maybe I’m not giving it much credit for the way it turned out, cause it was a beautiful ending scene.

  5. March 3, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    I don’t want to mislead to say that I didn’t like the film, I just expected to like it as much as I like Bicycle Thieves (which is a weird expectation now that I think about it).

    I agree that Flike wasn’t really a crutch to gain sympathy since the man was already pretty sympathetic. He does nothing but nice things and gets crapped on. Plus, he’s a cute old man. Flike is used very organically and it’s no different than having any other person or object offer redemption.

    The scene where the dogs are put into the oven was brutal, but I just told myself that they cut before they turned anything on.

    John — Just out of curiosity: do you feel a greater connection to Italian neo-realism because of you Italian roots. That you have family that lived through this time in Italy?

    I don’t watch films to only be uplifted, but like I said before, I didn’t enjoy watching a sweet old man get beaten down and wanted just a little bit more redemption for him. In what may be an esoteric point of comparison… if anyone has seen the French horror film “Inside,” the film basically terrorizes a pregnant woman for 90 minutes and has a bleak ending that it did not earn. You can’t put the audience through that sort of torment without a some sort of hope (and again, not all films have to be hopeful, I just prefer especially bleak films to have some). The ending of Umberto left me feeling similarly, though not as extremely, hopeless.

  6. March 5, 2010 at 12:00 AM

    I think it’s true that having a family connection and knowing the language makes me more inclined to warm up to neoerealism, but I definitely don’t like all iconic Italian films/filmmakers/movements. Never been much of a Fellini fan, for example.

    And speaking of the language, there were a few interesting choices in the subtitles…basically, simplifying what the dialogue originally was or cutting it out entirely in some cases. At one point, when Umberto is being driven by the taxi driver, he tells him to go faster, and the driver says, “And I run over someone, will you pay for it?” But the subtitles just said, “What if I run someone over?” Kind of cut out the humor in that line. Stuff like that littered throughout the subtitles.

    I also dislike films that are very one-note and don’t earn their constant obsession with either the positive or negative side of life. I’m pretty alone in the following opinion, I think, but the way you felt about “Inside” (I haven’t seen that film, actually) was how I felt about “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” Just too much bleakness for one film (for my taste). In “Umberto D.”, I felt the film had just enough of a tragicomic balance that it wasn’t over the top.

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