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Umberto D. – The Criterion Collection #201 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 2, 2012 by  



A classic Italian neorealism film that captures humanity in times of despair.  “Umberto D.” is realistic and 60-years-later, many can still feel compassion for Umberto because those emotions still run strong, as poverty is still a major problem today.  Wonderful performances from the non-professional actors and director Vittorio Di Spica and writer Cesare Zavattini once again at their best.  And if you thought that the original 2003 Criterion Collection DVD looked good, this 2012 Blu-ray looks even more amazing.  Definitely worth the upgrade and worth owning.  If you are a cineaste, this Blu-ray release is not only highly recommended but a film that is worth owning!

Image courtesy of © 1952 Rizoh.  2012 THE CRITERION COLLECTION. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Umberto D. – The Criterion Collection #201

YEAR OF FILM: 1952

DURATION: 88 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 Aspect Ratio), Black and White/Color, Monaural

COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection

RELEASE DATE: September 4, 2012

Directed by Vittorio De Sica

Written by Cesare Zavattini

Produced by Giuseppe Amato, Vittorio De Sica, Angelo Rizzoli

Music by Allesandro Cicognini

Cinematography by Aldo Graziati

Edited by Eraldo Da Roma

Production Design by Virgilio Marchi

Set Decoration by Ferdinando Ruffo

 

Starring:

Carlo Battisti as Umberto Domenico Ferrari

Maria-Pia Casilio as Maria, la servetta

Lina Gennari as Antonia, la pdrona di case

Ileana Simova as La donna nella camera di Umberto

Elenea Rea as La Suora all’ ospedale

Memmo Carotenuto as Il degent all’ ospedale

This neorealist masterpiece by Vittorio De Sica follows an elderly pensioner as he strives to make ends meet during Italy’s postwar economic recovery. Alone except for his dog, Flike, Umberto struggles to maintain his dignity in a city where human kindness seems to have been swallowed up by the forces of modernization. His simple quest to satisfy his basic needs—food, shelter, companionship—makes for one of the most heartbreaking stories ever filmed, and an essential classic of world cinema.


Director Vittorio De Sica, the famous actor and well renown director who was a major proponent to Italian neorealism of filmmaking and introduced the world to films that would take the world by storm.   De Sica had many popular films under his belt such as “Miracle in Milan”, “The Children Are Watching Us”, “Two Women” and many more.  But it was the neorealistic films of De Spica that many remember.  Films such as “The Bicycle Thief” and “Shoeshine”, films that epitomized showcased the poor and working class in Italy.  How one deals with poverty and when desperate, the life changing decisions that are made.

But it was the 1952 film “Umberto D.” which De Sica has said is the film which he prefers among all the films that he has made because of its “uncompromising portrayal of the characters and incidents that are genuine and true”.

But “Umberto D.” was a film that would become noticed now more than when it first screened in theaters in Italy.  As Italy tried to move past the neorealism and wanted to show the country as healthy, “Umberto D.” continued De Sica’s dedication to showcase people living in poverty.  According to film critic, Stuart Klawans, “Umberto D.” was a film that was despised by the Christian Democratic Part’s Giulio Andreotti and it was his party who had control of the government and also the movie production loans and right for pre-censorship over scripts.  Andreotti went as far as saying De Sica was guilty of slandering Italy abroad.

Needless to say, the film bombed in the box office in Italy and different parts of Europe despite winning a Bodil Award for “Best European Film”.  But it appeared that audiences fascination with Italian neorealism was over.

Meanwhile in the US, Americans had a different perspective and gave the film a New York Film Critics Circle Award for “Best Foreign Language Film” and the film was nominated an Oscar for “Best Writing, Motion Picture Story”.

Before De Sica’s death, if there was one thing about “Umberto D.”, its that De Sica has always believed it was his best film because it was a film made the way he wanted without compromises.

“Umberto D. was a film written by Cesare Zavattini (who also wrote “Miracle in Milan” and “The Bicycle Thief”), cinematography by Aldo Graziati (“Miracle in Milan”, “Indiscretion”) and music by Alessandro Cicognini (“Miracle in Milan”, “Tomorrow is Too Late”, “Anna of Brooklyn”).  And the film would showcase people who have never acted before, with the exception of the trained dog who had appeared in several films prior.

The film was a cineaste favorite when it was released on DVD by the Criterion Collection in 2003, but now De Sica’s masterpiece will be released on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection in Sept. 2012.

“Umberto D.” begins as elderly men are picketing for a raise in their pensions but the crowd is quickly dispersed after the police arrive.

For Umberto Domenico Ferrari (played by Carlo Battisti), he is an older man who has given a large part of his life working for the government and now living with his dog Filke on a pension of 28,000 lire a month.  He has no family and is barely managing financially. While Umberto complains to the other men about how he is barely making it, the other men are not in the same financial position as he is.  If anything, the men wonder if there will be another war, while Umberto is just wanting to make sure he and Filke can survive.

We see Umberto trying to sell his pocket watch for money and trying to sell his belongings because at home, his landlady  (played by Lina Gennari) is threatening to kick him out.  No matter if Umberto is able to raise several thousand lire, he owes 15,000 lire and his landlady has told him that it’s all or nothing.  She is so upset with him that she even rents out his room by the hour for men and women who need to get their business done which upsets him.  But Umberto refuses to live at a shelter and refuses to have his landlady kick him out, he refuses to let her win and get her way.

At his home, Umberto has made a friend of the landlady’s maid Maria (played by Maria-Pia Casillo) who tries to help him when he requests for a thermometer or for water.  But also, she finds comfort in Umberto because she can talk about her pregnancy to him.  Despite Maria not knowing who the father is (since she has slept with different military men), Umberto does not get upset with her, he is there to listen and hope that Maria continues to listen to him when.  Umberto knows that both of them live in a place which they need for survival and they have no one else to turn to but the main difference is Maria is still young, Umberto is not.

Knowing that the landlord wants to kick him out because he owes rent, Umberto comes up with a plan to get admitted to a hospital and live there for a week, giving him extra time to hopefully prevent getting kicked out from his home, while hoping Maria can watch over his dog Filke.  Unbeknown to Umberto, his landlady has taken steps to making sure that Umberto leaves by renovating the whole complex and to make things worse, Filke has escaped the complex.

So, we see Umberto trying to find a way for him and his dog to survive but also seeing a man who is educated, has retired from good government job but now being put in a position of despair.

VIDEO:

“Umberto D.” is presented in 1080p High Definition, black and white (1:37:1 aspect ratio).  This new transfer on Blu-ray looks incredible compared to its previous Criterion Collection 2003 DVD counterpart.  Picture quality is actually very good for a film created back in 1952 courtesy of the restoration done by Cineteca Nazionale-Scuola Nzionale di Cinema in collaboration with Mediaset and the original DVD transfer was quite impressive when I originally reviewed it years ago.

But watching it in HD, the detail of the film is impressive.  Whites and grays were were well-contrast and black levels were nice and deep.  The picture quality is clean and contrast is stunning.  The Blu-ray release of “Umberto D.” is fantastic and fans of the film will definitely see the improved transfer to be worth the upgrade from the original DVD to Blu-ray.

According to the Criterion Collection, the high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from the original nitrate camera negative.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the audio, audio is presented in Italian LPCM Monaural 1.0. Dialogue is clear and I heard no audio problems during my viewing of the film.  According to Criterion, the soundtrack was mastered at 24-Bit from a 35 mm optical track print.  Pops, crackle, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Umberto D.” comes with the following special features:

  • That’s Life: Vittorio De Sica–  (54:32) A 2001 documentary directed by Sandro Lai about Vittorio De Sica’s career and behind-the-scenes footage from De Sica’s past interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and more.
  • Maria Pia Casilio Interview – (12:06) Filmed in 2003, Maria Pia Casilio talks about how a seamstress with no acting ability won the role for “Umberto D.” and from that moment, how and why Di Spica gave her an opportunity to be in every film of his.
  • Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “Umberto D.”.

EXTRAS:

“Umberto D. – The Criterion Collection #201” comes with an 18-page booklet with the following essays: “Seeing Clearly Through Tears: On the Smart Sentiment of Umberto D.” by Stuart Klawans, “De Sica on Umberto D.” and “Am I Battisti or Umberto D.?” by Carlo Battsti.

It has been nearly a decade since I have watched “Umberto D.”, one of filmmaker Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece and a classic film of Italian neorealism that many will remember long after they have watched it.  A film that resonates strongly within a viewer because of its heartfelt story, its circumstance and imagery of its time, but most importantly, a film that event today, many people experience similar situations of homelessness and being too old and relevant to others during a time where world economy is bad and one can only hope for the best.

“Umberto D.” is a story about humanity, a story about hope and persevering no matter how bad things are and to protect those who you love or are close to, even when a person is unsure if they can do it or not.

When I originally reviewed this film years ago, it was during at time that I took an interest in De Sica’s work.  At the time I wrote, “And fortunately, both films are not alike with the exception that you have two older men who contemplate their life as “Ikiru” focused on a man who doesn’t have much time to live, while “Umberto D.” is about a man who is trying to survive and knowing he has no one to depend on, but yet his dog…his only companion depends on him and several times, Umberto has disappointed his canine friend.  His stubbornness and not willing to find shelter but to see if he can prove to his landlord that he will not be kicked of his apartment can be seen as commendable, and that the old man still has enough fight in him.  In “Ikiru”, we see the value of life.  In “Umberto D.”, we see an old man’s life thrown into despair and not knowing what to do with his life.  Nor does he do much to fix it.”.

Watching “Umberto D.” once again, the relationship between Umberto and canine companion is important because for many older people, one must be inspired to live.  For Umberto, the dog is his connection to life, having no family that he can depend on, no friends that he can depend on, it’s his dog that needs him, depends on him and it’s that relationship that captivates the viewer.  We feel sympathy for both but knowing that old age, no job, during a time of despair…you feel as if things continue to be unresolved, hope may seem to far out of reach.

The film has so much relevance because I’m sure even 60-years after this film was released in theaters, I’m quite sure many people have met someone like Umberto.  Young adult or elderly, family member or friend… I’m sure that there are times we have been apathetic and also frustrated by such people. This was a time of despair economically and while families had each other, those who were elderly and could not work were not seen as productive but as expendable.

And so, the message of the film was taken to heart by those who have watched it then and now.  Interesting enough that the film was criticized because it was seen as a disservice to Italy according to Giulio Andreotti, Undersecretary of Public Entertainment, who wanted to see more healthy and optimistic cinema.  But it’s understandable as Italy was undergoing a tumultuous time of uncertainty.  The government wanted to rebuild Italy to a positive nation and they needed their film industry to change the mood of its people.  While De Sica and other filmmakers wanted to bring attention to social injustice and the need for social reform to help the poor.

Needless to say, it was a conflict in Italy’s cinematic past and in the end, more people wanted to be entertained than be shown what they know already about their country’s political and social problems and sure enough, Italian Neorealism would eventually start to transition into more upbeat films via commedia all’italiana or even neorealismo rosa, which later became more in demand.

Seeing the transition and changes in Vittorio de Sica’s career, I look at “Umberto D.” as a time capsule to Italy’s past and grateful that the filmmaker used cinema to communicate to viewers that the people have the right to voice their displeasure towards their government and ask for social reform.

“Umberto D.” and “The Bicycle Thieves” are important films by Vittorio De Sica, because we watch how this filmmaker wanted to see change and what best to use cinema as a powerful voice to communicate to millions.

I mentioned that “hope may seem so far out of reach” for Umberto D., but the ending of the film can be seen by different people with different interpretations.  I tend to look at it as man’s best friend giving the man a second chance at life.  Whether your optimism or pessimism comes into full gear after watching this film, just know that its relevancy then continues to be powerful even now and this classic Italian film should be seen by all cinema fans.  I would go as far to say that “Umberto D.” is a must-watch film and for cinema fans, it’s also a must-own.  I believed back then that this film was a keeper and I still hold that belief today.

As far as the Blu-ray is concerned, the transfer to Blu-ray is fantastic.   Back in 2003, my review was favorable because of its restoration and clarity on DVD.  But watching it on Blu-ray, the clarity, contrast and overall picture quality makes this version the one to own.   As for special features, I absolutely enjoyed the documentary about director Vittorio De Sica’s life and also hearing from the actress Maria Pia Casilio and hearing how cool of a director  De Sica truly was and how he treated her so well.  You can only admire what De Sica brought to filmmaking but also when given the opportunity to create a film with no compromises.

Overall, “Umberto D.” is a masterpiece.  Cinematography was beautiful, the non-professional actors turned actors brought a wonderful performance for the film and Zavattini once again has nailed down a solid screenplay.  Sure,  “Umberto D.” may not tug at your heart or make you cry like Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” but the despair of his characters are quite real and relevant today.

It’s Italian neorealism at its best and “Umberto D.” is definitely a film that I highly recommend!

 

 

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