Umberto D

1952 dog movie

Rating: 18/20

Plot: An old man and his dog try to catch a train.

I believe I prefer this to Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (or The Bicycle Thief since it doesn't seem like people can make up their minds what this movie is called), but my movie memory is actually really bad. So who's to say?

This is a look at despair, and although there might be a few scenes here or there that you could say are lighter, this movie's really kind of a downer. However, most of the movies I like the most are downers. This story about this unfortunate soul in an apathetic world always seems like it's threatening to become relentlessly depressing. There's a maid and a dog who bring a little light, but just like they do in the man's life, they just can't do enough. De Sica films the man's story matter-of-factly, something that seems like it would give the whole thing a coldness, but it's really the complete opposite. There's such a warmth here, and you almost get the feeling that the camera itself, though it's inanimate, actually cares for this old man and his dog.

A lot of the warmth comes from the quiet but great performance of Carlo Battisti. It's one of the greatest one-and-done performances of all time. I'm not sure how De Sica stumbled upon this guy or what his background was, but watching him carry this man's past and present on his shoulders and face is exciting. And depressing. It's the kind of performance that works so well because while the story's author leaves all these gaps and doesn't give you much background about what this guy did with his life before the movie started, what his family is like, or really anything other than this guy's right now, the actor somehow fills in those gaps for us.

As great Battisti is, he's out-acted by the dog, Flike. It's a great animal performance.

This is a quiet movie, but there are some truly great and touching scenes and some brilliant shots. I loved a couple shots of Umberto's landlady as she walked away from her closed door, her silhouette actually growing larger as she moves away from the door. A chaotic scene at a dog pound is also really great, and there are a lot of great moments with that dog, including the one depicted on the poster up there. The final shot is just about perfect. And at least for me, it was totally uplifting. I'm sure you could take the end of the story De Sica's telling in different ways though.

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