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Umberto D.

Film Review by Dean Duncan Aug 26, 2014

Strange to say, but this pioneering neo-realist film by Vittorio de Sica and Cesare Zavattini is actually very Hitchcock-like. Opposite affect, but similar method: the strategy is to rise steadily by means of these strikingly cinematic sequences (the protest, removal to hospital, the lost dog, begging, suicide’s brink). With this in mind you get some sense of how dramatic, how operatic the de Sica/Zavattini collaborations really were. The subject may be thoroughly neo-realist, but the enhancements are all designed to put you through it, or take you higher.

This is tremendous, but you could also see it as being somewhat unseemly. Umberto D. is very humane and heart-rending; it might also be an objectionable combination of assumed, maybe dubious fatalism and direly manipulative sentimentality. The combination of protagonist Ferrari and his little Flag/Flike is as calculated as Dickens’ Tiny Tim. Maybe this last generalization is not quite fair, since it doesn’t account for this tremendous Maria character, nor for that stunning sequence with her alone in the early morning kitchen. Criticism, which can mean actually criticizing, is very important. But we must also remember that contradictory, self-conflicted statements can still be uncontradictorally great.