Soon into Umberto D I was reminded of another great older film – Wild Strawberries. On reflection it’s clear to see the central themes of the two films are incredibly similar. Both focus on the loneliness of single older men as they both look back on their lives. There is however, one striking difference. Umberto D is a man in extreme poverty living in post World War II Italy. While the lead protagonist of Wild Strawberries is an accomplished doctor in Sweden traveling to receive a highly respected award – some difference to merely trying to survive on the streets of Rome yet the themes of the two 1950s films are universal.
The plot begins once retired Umberto Domenico Ferrari is evicted from his flat when he is unable to afford rent on his ex-civil servant pension. In order to gain shelter, Umberto exaggerates the seriousness of his ill health in a busy shelter ran by the Church. In order to stay there, he leaves his loyal and trusting dog with a maid at his old tenement building. However, on release from the makeshift hospital Umberto finds his dog ran off. The film continues on as Umberto’s struggles to survive in post-war Italy during a period of mass change of which many older aspects of the country have less importance placed on them and are forgotten about.
This is another great film from Vittorio De Sica, in the kin of many other neorealist films of the time in the late 1940s and early 1950s. A period of De Sica’s career which saw him direct Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan, and Umberto D in just 7 years. A fantastic record by anyone’s standards. Umberto D is a film that will stick with you, if only for its cynical view of how society treats those that are no longer useful to it. Economic recovery in 1952 seems very similar to economic recovery in 2017.