Umberto D.

  • Umberto D.
  • Director: Vittorio De Sica
  • Year: 1952
Umberto D Umberto D.

Umberto D. is a story about the marginalisation and poverty that affected the pensioners of post-war Rome. Many see it as the last great film of Italian neorealism, and it was created by two neorealist legends: director Vittorio De Sica and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini had previously collaborated on several films, including Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves.

After the opening scene, in which a disorganised march in support of pensioners' rights is disbanded by the police, the film singles out one of the men, a retired civil servant called Umberto Domenico Ferrari. Umberto lives alone, he is in debt to his landlady and his pension, which can barely cover his month's expenses, will certainly not allow him to clear the debt. Umberto's only friends are his landlady's maid, with whom he shares a perplexing, distant form of camaraderie, and his pet dog, a mongrel called Flike.  

After his attempts to bargain with his landlady fail, Umberto becomes increasingly desperate to raise the money he needs. He sells his watch and then cons his way into an extended stay in hospital but it is his attempt at begging, in a scene filmed in front of the Pantheon, which provides one of several great scenes in this film. Played out in near silence, his internal struggle is portrayed in a deceptively simple scene which several critics have suggested is reminiscent of Chaplin's best work, but with an added sense of gravity.

The fact that Umberto's attempts at raising money fail turns out to be almost immaterial; his socialite landlady has recently married, and begins to redecorate his bedroom with a view to turning it into a reception room. Eventually, Umberto reaches the conclusion that he has come to the end of what has until now been a dignified life. However, before ending his life he must sever his attachment to the last thing with which he still has a meaningful relationship: his dog, Flike.

On its release, Umberto D. was dismissed by critics and hated by audiences. However, it is a very beautiful and sad film, and is now recognised as one of the classics of Italian cinema.

DVD Details

Umberto D. has been released on DVD in the USA as part of the popular Criterion Collection. It comes with a television documentary on De Sica, an interview with Maria Pia Casilio and essays and other writings by people including De Sica and Umberto Eco.

The British DVD of Umberto D. has been released by Nouveaux Pictures, and comes with an excellent hour-long documentary on screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, featuring interviews with Bertolucci, Roberto Benigni and many others.

The DVD is also available in the UK as part of the Neo-Realist Collection, along with other classics including Rome, Open City, I Vitelloni and Bicycle Thieves.