Film Analysis Assignment 1 – Umberto D


Written on October 23, 2010 – 11:38 pm | by jwolpoe

Italian Neorealism typically explored the poorer, undervalued side of Italian society, showing the day-by-day struggles of individuals in small, quiet stories.In Umberto D. Vittorio de Sica explores how the polite value placed on individuals from Umberto’s youth is falling to the cold efficiency and distance of post-war Italy. This theme is explored repeatedly throughout the film, especially in the first scene in the hospital, while the doctors are going through the patients. De Sica uses filmatic elements such as the setting, camera angles, rapid shot-reverse-shots and depth of field to convey the coldness in the Italian establishments and the changes in society that Umberto must struggle through.

The scene is set in an impossibly long hospital ward, with high ceilings. As the camera pans across for the establishing shot, the ward appears to be a mass of matching beds and patients, each completely identical to the next. The only action comes from the mass of doctors and one nun who are travelling from bed to bed to evaluate patients’ conditions. And even they are dressed in a stark, cold, professional white, matching the general mood of the room. Over the course of the scene, many shots show the stretch of length of the hospital, emphasizing how each patient – even Umberto – is just another body occupying a long stretch of beds. The depth of the field is shallow, focusing on one or two patients alongside the doctors but blurring the rest into an endless, faceless stretch.  To the doctors, every patients is just a body to be healed, not an individual suffering, and Umberto is lost in this efficient system of quick healing. Even the nuns can’t possibly focus on each individual in the crush of patients in the ward. Umberto, who is used to an older style of polite personalized attention, cannot convey the need he has for more than just a quick application of medication.

When the doctors come to Umberto’s bed, the camera angles tighten noticeably. The doctors are shot from a low angle, making them appear tall and powerful, especially alongside the bed-ridden patients. The doctors first approach the patient in the bed next to Umberto. He is an old hand and working the hospital system, so he plays along the doctors expectations, by lying low in his bed, at the very bottom of the screen. A nurse stands behind his bed and defends him to the doctors, and she takes up the whole top of the screen when it focuses on him. She is displayed to be in a position of power with the doctors, able to influence their decision regarding patients. She is capable of caring about patients, as shown by her closeness to Umberto’s fellow patient, while the doctors stand farther away.

While the doctors talk to each patient, most of them stand at the foot of the bed, while one main doctor comes slightly closer to examine the patient. Their placement again betrays their disinterest, and as they talk to each patient the shots are all rapid shot-reverse-shots between the powerful doctors and the powerless patients. The quick cutting and tighter shots make these scenes seem like battles between the doctors and patients, but while the text is about the doctors pushing the patients out while they fight for the right to stay, the angles of the shot – again, high angles on the doctors, low angles on the patients – make it clear that this is a battle about being recognized as individuals. The doctors see a constant flood of nameless patients, and they don’t even bother to learn names or faces, only diagnoses. The patients need to fight with the doctors, or the nuns, to become individuals and gain rights to compassion and sympathy.

Most striking is the camera distance when Umberto opens his mouth for inspection. The camera stays incredibly far, too far for a good look at Umberto’s throat, which the doctor is supposed to be examining. This once again reinforces the distance the doctors feel fro the patients, even while trying to treat them.

The first person to recognize Umberto and help him is his fellow man in the hospital, who teaches him tricks to make himself appear more pitiful and sympathetic to the nuns. These tricks will make the nuns care enough about him to defend him to the doctors. The other patient uses these tricks to stay in hospitals for free, while Umberto succumbs to use these tricks under pressure and desperation. Their attitudes are clear from their placements in their beds – Umberto spends most of the scene nearly upright, making himself neat for the doctors and visitors. The other patient spends most of the scene slumped carelessly into his bed, knowing that making himself into a more pathetic figure will earn him more sympathy.

The scene ends as Maria walks into the room to look for Umberto and pay him a short visit. When Maria walks in, she is unable to find Umberto for a few minutes, lost in the sea of matching beds. Again, this scene serves to highlight the isolation and loneliness of individuals, who are devalued in new systems of efficiency in the post-war Italian society. Umberto is a adrift in this uncaring environment, unable to fight for himself in the crowd of other people.

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