After watching Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D (1952), I tried to come to an understanding of the message that the movie carried. Certainly, as in the case of The Bicycle Thief, there is a message about the system and its profound power over individuals’ lives. At the beginning of the film, we are immediately faced with the problem of pensions. Dedicated workers who are too old to labor cannot pay for their own survival, and their final years are full of turmoil. In direct opposition to Busby Berkeley’s elaborate, large-budgeted films which celebrate money while Americans are going through their own financial hardships. They create illusions that wealth is among you, so therefore you are in a sense wealthy. It dares to blatantly lie to its audience and metaphorically speaking, sweep the poverty issue under the carpet. Italian neo-realism and Umberto D. are honest, disillusioning depictions of the financial struggles of poor Post- WWII Italy, which is why they flopped at the box office, according to De Sica. What had me questioning the story was De Sica’s interview, specifically where he says it isn’t necessarily completely about the system, but about humanity and man’s inability to communicate with man, especially older, less valuable men in society. The film’s mood was incredibly effective because it’s optimism was there but, fleeting. The landlady is a despicable woman who wants this man out at all costs even if it means him and his dog, dead on the street. She will not accept any of his contributions to rent unless it is the full amount knowing she will evict him this way.
The story is not resolved in a large number of ways. We don’t know the fate of the maid living at Umberto’s building, nor where Umberto is going to live, now that he is left. The film had me believing maybe he was going to commit suicide. One of the most grim moments when I thought his suicide was imminent was when he is at the pound and he cannot find Flike. In a grim, realist moment in that scene just before he finds Flike, another poor man can’t retrieve his dog because he can’t afford the release costs. He has no choice but to let them put the dog to sleep with the horrible question from an employee at the pound “what else are we going to do with them?” as the dogs go into an incinerator. That moment was so gut-wrenching and hard to watch, even if it wasn’t “real” When he finally finds Flike, things begin to look up until he doesn’t have a place to live still. He goes to desperate measures and the inner conflicts that are shown in his behavior really sum up what De Sica says about man. He meets fellow men on the street and wants to ask them for money. He hints to them that he has money issues but nobody is moved to help. He sets the dog up with his hat to beg for change, but then decides against it. Umberto also does not resolve things with the pregnant maid which was something I hadn’t thought about until De Sica’s interview.
I believed their connection was going to lead them to solve their problems together, two “underdogs” down on their luck but, nothing ever materializes. With that said, I think this film is effective and a good example of Italian neorealism because it illustrates larger messages that are still relevant today. The system has its flaws and does not work, and yet other people aware of that do not come together usually to help one another out and figure something better. The system is sometimes too powerful to bring down as well. Also, this film explores the ideas of pride, and leaves us not feeling completely hopeless.
In the end, when Umberto lives, with the joy his dog brings him is a nice coping mechanism. He has something to live for and essentially, all of us in this world have something that keeps us going. That message is a little more hopeful and optimistic than the Bicycle Thief, and I can’t imagine watching a movie like that because Umberto D had an affective impact on me already.