Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Street life: Umberto & Flag

UMBERTO D, 1952 - The simple, heartbreaking story of an aged Roman named Umberto (played by Carlo Battisti, non-professional actor and retired college professor) who struggles to survive in a city which disregards the plight of the elderly - there certainly are Umbertos still around today. With his little dog, Flag, as his only companion, Umberto faces imminent eviction, as his insufficient pension and failed attempts to raise money lead him to contemplate suicide... if he can find a home for Flag. 

His dilemma - and director Vittorio De Sica's compassionate, unsentimental handling of it - results in a film of uncompromising grace and authenticity, like De Sica's earlier masterpieces SHOESHINE and BICYCLE THIEVES. If this timeless classic doesn't make you smile and cry, you'd better check for a pulse. Overall though it is deeply affecting - what will become of Umberto and Flag?, reunited as they are at the climax after Flag runs away after realising what Umberto was trying to do as the train approached .... the masterly last shot though has them walking away in the background as we focus on children - the future - up front.

His only human contact seems to be with the rather simple minded maid, who is pregnant by either of her two soldier boyfriends - and the landlady who wants him out and begins to dismantle his room. The plight of losing your room is too horrible to contemplate for such a proud old man. Umberto though is no kindly old gent, he can be cantankerous and stubborn too. He tries to give the dog away, and also tries to beg but cannot quite do it. Presumably they will end up in the poor house - but will he be able to keep Flag? Dogs of course don't act - they are simply in the moment, its probably all a game to them. But after Flag here and Uggie in THE ARTIST and Pudsey who won our UK "Britain's Got Talent" show who does not like a talented dog. 

Again scripted by Cesare Zavattini, and directed with De Sica's consummate skill, he orchestrates a torrent of emotion.  This film is touching, memorable and manages to draw us into Umberto's life without ever becoming maudlin.

The denouement is heartbreaking, but the film never lapses into mere sentimentality.  The moment when he finds Flag in the dog pound (and sees a crate of unwanted dogs put in the gas chamber) and he clasps the animal to himself as the only thing in the world he can love and be loved by, is utterly overwhelming. The ending when Flag comes back to him is just masterly in every way. These scenes are justly extolled by Martin Scorsese in his documentary tribute to the Italian cinema MY VOYAGE TO ITALY (review at Italian label). It it almost a Dickensian view of the world: We live- we suffer. We are UMBERTO D.

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