Umberto D. is a film about an aging man trying to make ends meet to stay in his rented room.
Umberto Domenico Ferrari (Carlo Battisti) is a retired government worker reliant on his pension to make ends meet. He lives in a rented room with his dog, Flike, his only companion. The maid, Maria (Maria Pia Casilio), of building he lives in has a fondness for Umberto, but his landlady, Antonia (Lina Gennari) wants him out of the room so she can rent it by the hour to amorous couples. Antonia gives Umberto one last chance to stay, but requires all the back rent at once. Umberto has to sell all of his possessions and ultimately falls ill. Unable to bring himself to panhandling, Umberto seeks an alternative to his suffering.
Umberto D. is a film I have heard much about but never seen until now and while the plot is simple, it’s a touching look at a man’s life. At first, Umberto seems a bit of a scoundrel, trying to sell a watch of his to men he seems to know on the street or in a soup kitchen. At first, we don’t understand his reasons for needing to sell the watch and the change in heart we have for Umberto is even more drastic once we realize the truth. Umberto is not a bad guy, in fact, he seems like a genuinely good person that is just trying to get by. His landlady on the other hand, seems quite vile.
One thing I may have mentioned before is that movies with animals always get to me, and I was so concerned that something would happen to Flike while watching Umberto D. that the film had a tone of dread surrounding that poor little dog. I won’t spoil anything about Flike, but I will say that Flike is a truly effective character in the film. Also, since this was a Criterion Collection blu-ray, I will say that the presentation is the kind of perfection expected from Criterion but Umberto D. is a bit light on extra material this time around.
Shot with non-actors, Umberto D. isn’t an emotional punch in the gut nor is it manipulative. The camera lends a sympathetic view of poor Umberto trying to make his way in life, but the tone of the film is fairly neutral for most of the duration. Maybe its the indifference in the presentation that makes Umberto D. such a striking film or perhaps its simply one of the best character-driven films around.
I give it 4 begging Flikes out of 5.