Umberto D. (1952) dir. Vittorio De Sica
De Sica, most famous for Ladri di biciclette, made Umbero D. at the end of the Italian neorealist movement. Upon release, Umberto D. was criticized by Italians for sappiness; giving the old man a dog seemed particularly contrived.
The first scene tries to distance Umberto D. from the social justice genre that Visconti's La terra trema occupies. The elderly pensions stage a protest, and run from police. They scold each other for forgetting to get a permit to demonstrate.
Perhaps De Sica included the scene because of how snugly Umberto D. fits into the pattern of the "life sucks for poor people" plots that typify quiet realism even today. Umberto cannot raise the money he needs to stay in his small room, and his landlady plans to kick him out anyway. He fakes illness to stay in a hospital for free, but he cannot bring his dog, Filke, with him. He resorts to begging, and eventually considers suicide.
Umberto D. was criticized for being emotionally manipulative, but it doesn't seem any more so than Roma, città aperta or Paisan or De Sica's own Ladri di biciclette. That's why Italian neorealism doesn't seem quite as revolutionary as its contemporaries imagined it to be. Using nonprofessional actors doesn't make your film more "real," especially if you're still using Hollywood plots and Hollywood techniques.
Umberto D. fits the ideology as well as anything else. Plus, it works on an emotional level, more so than Ladri di bicicletti.
Distanced from the artistic debates of 60 years ago, the simple, sad story strikes a chord.
Umberto D. is #131 on the 2011 edition of the TSPDT 1,000 list I’m blogging through. I’ve now seen 408.