Umberto D. (1952)

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Released 16-Aug-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Taste Of Cherry, Tokyo Story, Mon Oncle, Ikiru
Booklet-The Invisible Subject: By Peter Kemp-Lec. Cinema Studies RM
Audio Commentary-By Dr Gino Mioliterno, Head Of Film Studies Aust. Nat. Univ
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1952
Running Time 84:40 (Case: 88)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Vittorio De Sica
Studio
Distributor
Madman
Madman Entertainment
Starring Carlo Battisti
Maria-Pia Casilio
Lina Gennari
Ileana Simova
Elena Rea
Memmo Carotenuto
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Alessandro Cicognini


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Umberto D was the last of the great cycle of Italian neo-realist films from director Vittorio de Sica. Made in 1952 it is both a shining example of the movement and perhaps its last gasp. The failure of Umberto D at the box office suggested that Italians had seen enough of their problems depicted on screen.

    Umberto D was a relatively obscure film for many until Martin Scorsese held it up as one of his favourite films in his recent homage to Italian cinema. It is not hard to see why he considered it such a classic, as the film, with its unblinking eye observing flawed but understandable characters, seems a precursor to the outlook if not the technique of Scorsese himself.

    De Sica was one of the first on the neo-realist scene with Shoeshine in 1946 , followed by The Bicycle Thief in 1948 and Miracle in Milan in 1951. Rarely has a director had so many accolades for successive films as Oscars were thrown at him as well as other significant awards. The film won the New York Critics Best Foreign Film award in 1955 and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay in 1957 (the spectacular year where a blacklisted screenwriter won under an assumed name and the wrong pair of scriptwriters got nominated when two films came out with the same name!)

    In each of De Sica's neo-realist films the central plot idea and character motivation, like life itself, is remarkably simple. In The Bicycle Thief it is the desire to reclaim a stolen bicycle. In Umberto D it is just an old man's attempt to pay the rent. Within this simple plot the actions of the characters speak volumes about the human condition.

    Umberto Domenico Ferrari is a retired civil servant from the Department of Public Works. As the film starts he and other pensioners are engaged in a fairly pathetic protest against the meagre government aged pension. It is quickly broken up by police and we learn that Umberto is close to destitute. His landlady of 20 years is about to throw him out. As if symbolizing the new Italy she has embraced the post war boom and regards the war and Umberto as things of the past. He tries all means to scrape together the money to keep his lodgings.

    Umberto has only two friends in the world, the maid Maria who kindly does his bidding and his dog Flike. Although Flike seems to be well trained, both Maria (Maria-Pia Casilio) and Umberto (Giovanni Battisti) are non-actors. Battisti never made another feature film. Both are excellent in their roles with no hint of coarse acting.

    The film follows the various means Umberto takes to try to get sufficient rent money, from pawning his watch to spending time in hospital so that he doesn't have to pay for food. Throughout his dog is his constant companion. This reflects the loneliness of the character but also his resolute determination to be self-sufficient. Umberto is no pathetic victim - he is a grumpy old man stuck in his ways. He is resolutely selfish. Maria, who shares her deepest secret (she is pregnant and can't work out the identity of the father), listens to him and puts up with him but he can only occasionally bring himself to care about her problems. This was a source of trouble for many critics who found Umberto undeserving of their sympathy, however it gels more completely with real life.

    A few scenes in the movie are justly revered by critics and film fans. One is where Umberto has to go to the pound when Flike goes missing and experiences the tension of not knowing whether he is dead or alive. Another is more subtle. Maria wakes in the early morning and goes about her chores of preparing the stove, brewing coffee. De Sica merely patiently observes her daily ritual and it assumes a real depth of meaning as the scene progresses, a single tear on her face as she contemplates the possibility that she will be thrown out on the street when her mistress finds out that she is having a baby. A final one is where Umberto tries to beg on the street for money but is too proud to go through with it.

    Umberto D was scripted by De Sica's long-time writer Cesare Zavvatini and he is able to capture the depths of the characters in simple and economical dialogue. There is a real deftness of touch that is less evident in their previous collaborations.

    As said, after Umberto D the neo-realist movement was all but over. Future President of Italy Mario Andretti criticised De Sica in print saying:
 

We ask De Sica not to forget the minimal commitment toward a healthy and constructive optimism
that can help humanity to move forward and to gain some hope.
It seems to us that the world fame that our directors have rightly
acquired gives us the right to demand that he accept his duty and fulfil this task.

    In other words - look on the bright side!

    Whilst Umberto D is not quite as raw and successful a film as The Bicycle Thief it is nevertheless a classic film that can be enjoyed by just about anyone who likes quality cinema.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Umberto D comes to DVD in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. It is a full frame transfer.

    The previous de Sica films on DVD have succeeded in spite of their numerous defects. Umberto D is light years away in quality. Restored in 1999 it is a clean and clear print with minimal problems. The beautiful black and white cinematography is crisp and shadows are deep. It is possible to see each worry line etched in Umberto's face. I can only hope that the rest of the de Sica back catalogue gets the same treatment.

    As said, there are minimal defects with the print such as some slight artefacts but the grain is low. There are a few damaged frames towards the end of some edits but the effect is not annoying. Another minor problem, which was more evident in Miracle in Milan, is the variance in quality between two shots within the same scene. Again it is hard to gripe about this in a 54 year old movie.

    Subtitles are clear and easy to read.

    I cannot see how this movie could look any better.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

 

    The sound for Umberto D is Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s). The sound is only occasionally hissy and thin.

    Dialogue is clear and there are almost no drop-outs in the restored print (I heard a brief one at 57.40).

    It wouldn't be a de Sica neo-realist film without a soundtrack by Alessandro Cigognini. Once again the master does not disappoint with a soundtrack that is just as memorable as his earlier films and which relies on a wide orchestral base. The themes are not quite as hummable tending to be a bit more subtle than the earlier films.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Umberto D comes with three real extras.

Main Menu Audio & Animation

    This is a simple scene from the movie backed by music from the film.

Theatrical Trailer

    The trailer for the film is quite nice if, at 3:55, quite long.

Trailer

    The DVD includes a few trailers from other classic films.

Booklet

    The DVD has a short biography of de Sica on the inside cover. There is also a detailed essay by Peter Kemp, a lecturer at RMIT University in cinema studies which is a 13 page examination of the film, its reception by critics and the public as well as the nature of "realism". It is an interesting and insightful article for anyone seriously interested in understanding some of the ideas behind the film.

Audio Commentary

    The audio commentary is supplied by Dr Gino Moliterno, the Head of Film Studies at Australian National University. Moliterno is an engaging speaker and it is good to have an Australian voice on a Region 4 DVD. Although he does give a little background about the film Moliterno really looks at the events of the movie and assists in an interpretation of those events. That is, the commentary is fairly descriptive in nature rather than trivia based. A worthy listen.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version of the film has several different extras. These are:

    The documentary is featured on the Region 4 version of The Bicycle Thief and is well worth watching. The interview with Maria Pia Casilio would have been interesting however there is real merit in the local contributions.

Summary

    Umberto D is a genuine classic because it puts a sometimes unsympathetic character on screen before us and invites our response without trying to wring tears out of his at times tragic situation. It simply depicts life as it is with all the imperfections on show.

    The transfer of the film in its restored state to DVD is an unqualified triumph and the sound quality doesn't lag far behind.

    The extras, though not earthshattering, are a welcome addition to this quality package.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo DV-SP300, using Component output
DisplayNEC PlasmaSync 42" MP4 1024 x 768. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJBL Simply Cinema SCS178 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
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