Umberto D. and Neorealism

Written on October 20, 2010 – 5:03 am | by jwolpoe

I happen to love slow, contemplative films. I like to watch them late at night, or when I have a few hours to kill. I enjoy relaxing into the drowsy atmosphere of the film, the realistic approach to the world. But..they have a tendency to make me tired, and I normally watch them in bits and peices as I find myself struggling to stay awake.

But not Umberto D, which is fascinating, because the most exciting things to happen in the film, action-wise, were at the very beginning and the very end. But from the moment he is introduced, he is nothing short of facinating. I think the structure of the opening was brilliant. The crowd has gained our sympathies early as who doesn’t care for elderly pensioners being harassed by police? But then Umberto established himself as being in even more trouble then most of the other men in the crowd, and pulls out his dog.

From the very beginning it is clear that Flike makes Umberto’s life more difficult, needing to be provided with food and to be taken care of while Umberto can barely afford to take care of himself. Yet, it is also clear that the that abandoning Flike isn’t even an option at the beginning of the film. It is only when Umberto is literally falling apart in sickness and panic that even contemplates leaving Flike, and only in the hands of someone he trusts. By the end of the film, when he is struggling to give Flike away, the audience is fully aware of how truly desperate he is.

There is also something quietly noble about Umberto throughout the whole film. Even as his life is literally being torn to pieces, he only emerges in public well-dressed and neat. Compare him to the other beggars in the street and it is clear that he is ashamed to be even associated with them. They seem to have no care for how they come off, or the lies they must tell to get money. Umberto, who is genuinely struggling to hold onto his very bedroom, can’t even begin to ask directly for the help he needs. I noted in class that even when he approached friends and acquaintances for help, he was still unable to get the exact worlds “I need your help. Can you lend me money?” out to his friends. He couldn’t put himself in that position. While this is what ultimately ruined him, one cannot help but admire him for his genuine pride.

I found the end of the film heartbreaking, even more so, perhaps, than had he managed to step in front of the train with Flike. Where is he to go? What is he to do? He is literally left with nothing but the clothes on his back – his suitcase has vanished by the final scene. What will he do? Play in the park until darkness and sit there, alone with his dog?

Perhaps most chilling is the thought that even he manages to swallow his pride enough to go to a shelter of some sort, what will happen to Flike after all of that?

The realism of this movie was more vivid than many labeled “slice-of-life” or similar genres today. At no point did the characters expand on their struggles in an unrealistic way. The movie was a quiet, desperate call for help, and it transcended the language barriers, the black-and-white visuals and the dated and distant locations to pain a vivid picture of a real life.