Vittorio De Sica’s dramatic examination of old age amid the pensioners of postwar Italy tells a bittersweet tale in Umberto D., one of the last in a successful series of neorealistic films the director made after World War II. A simple tale of affection and desperation that pulls few punches and haunts the memory, Umberto D. wasn’t a financial success upon its initial release, but its reputation has certainly increased leaps and bounds over the decades since its premiere.
Umberto D. (Blu-ray)
Directed by Vittorio De Sica
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 88 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 Italian
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Review Date: August 31, 2012
Because the government’s monthly stipend to civil service retirees is inadequate, most of the pensioners find themselves in dire straits unless family members are willing to help. Umberto D. Ferrari (Carlo Battisti) has no one but his beloved dog Flike in his life, and he finds making ends meet a constant struggle. Even by selling treasured mementos like a family watch or a set of cherished books, he can’t scrape up enough money to meet his back rent. His greedy landlady (Lina Gennari), who uses Umberto’s bedroom as a assignation place for furtive lovers when Umberto is out, wants him gone even if he can come up with the money. The boarding house maid Maria (Maria Pia Casilio) is as kind to Umberto as she can be and still keep her job, but since she’s pregnant without benefit of a husband, she knows her time at the house is also limited. Umberto has very few options left as his thoughts begin to turn to dark places for a solution.
Director Vittorio De Sica and his longtime writing collaborator Cesare Zavattini paint a very bleak picture of Italian mores in this postwar period. Beggars are everywhere and find they must often insult passers-by to get even a few measly coins, and even a middle class man like Umberto is looked on unfavorably because he needs money. There seems to be no compassion from anyone (the landlady is painted as particularly unreasonable and heartless), and even the friendly maid Maria feels no remorse when she allows Umberto’s beloved dog Flike to run away after promising to look after him. As the film nears its last quarter hour and the tone of the movie takes an even more ominous turn, De Sica’s direction is even more harrowing especially as Umberto grabs up Flike and heads toward a train track. It isn’t all gloom and doom (there’s a brief respite from the negative when Umberto sends himself to a hospital ward where he can get free food and lodging for a week thus saving some much needed money), but the overriding impact of this respectable man unable to find help from either friends or strangers leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth as the film comes to an end.
Neither Carlo Battisti nor Maria Pia Casilio were professional actors, but they carry off their roles to great effect: he expressing great love for his dog and great frustration at his situation trying all the while to retain a shred of dignity and she as warm as a teenager of the time could allow herself to be. Lina Gennari as the surly landlady is magnificently haughty, completely unconcerned with anyone’s fate but her own.
The film’s original 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Taken from the camera negative, the image quality is mostly superb with most shots possessing an impressive sharpness and an exquisite grayscale which really emphasizes the deep blacks thus making the images pop in a natural way without too much contrast. There are some shots (mostly long shots) which are softer and look more like the quality of the trailer on the disc, and there is some momentary line twitter, too, but most of the images are startling in their focus and depth. The white subtitles are always easy to read. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is typical for its era with a lot of post synch work which sometimes sounds natural and sometimes sounds arid and flat. Alessandro Cicognini’s music score really emphasizes the tragic nature of the story and though the fidelity isn’t great, it’s fine for its era. Criterion’s engineers have done an excellent job clearing away age-related artifacts like hiss, crackle, and flutter. This is a very clean sounding soundtrack.
That’s Life: Vittorio De Sica is a 2001 Italian television documentary on the professional life of Vittorio De Sica both as a matinee idol in his younger days as an actor and later as a prize-winning director (three of his films won Oscars as Best Foreign Language Film) and as an honored character actor. This runs 54 ½ minutes and is in 1080i.
Actress Maria Pia Casilio discusses her casting in the film and her later career working with De Sica in a 2003 interview that runs 12 ¼ minutes in 1080i.
The theatrical trailer runs 3 ¾ minutes in 1080p.
The enclosed 17-page booklet contains the cast and crew list, some stills and behind-the-scenes shots, film critic Stuart Klawans’ admiring essay on the movie, De Sica’s own thoughts about the film, and the film’s star Carlo Battisti brief essay on being offered the title role while serving as a college professor.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4/5 (not an average)
A heartbreaking intrusion into the tragic consequences of growing old amid the indifference of a government and a country’s population, Umberto D. has earned its place as a classic of its kind. The Criterion Blu-ray features beautiful video quality, more than adequate audio, and most of the bonuses from the DVD release. Recommended!