Vittorio De Sica

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George N. Fenin

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In my opinion, [Umberto D.] represents undoubtedly the apex of what can be considered the first phase of the Italian neorealism; it is also the closest and most precious attempt at "filmed life."…

In Umberto D. the symbiosis of Zavattini and De Sica has reached the most perfect fusion of style and message. The escapism of Miracle in Milan, the workman's tragedy in Bicycle Thief has risen to the pathos of loneliness in Umberto D. The film maintains the dignity of an art without compromise as it reflects the anguished conditions in post-war Italy. The pessimism is gradual. The squatters of Miracle in Milan do have hope and fly with their brooms to "where good morning really means good morning;" the unemployed Lamberto Meggiorani of Bicycle Thief is, on the other hand, shaken by despair; still, he is young and strong and his wife and son are symbols to justify his future renewal of a struggle for life.

But the pensioned civil servant of Umberto D. is alone, desperately alone. He is an old man whose mission in this life is finished…. But he is, above all, a human being, representing a category of the underprivileged, whose unjust treatment casts a terrible verdict of guilt upon an indifferent society, practising that egotism that Schopenhauer rightly defined as the "unmeasurable ruler of the world." And the passivity … of Umberto dramatizes authentically the tragedy of so many living corpses, crushed by a war which they did not want, sundered from a meaningful existence. Thus, the film provides the theme for a social document of unheard-of-honesty in its expression, blending the realism of the best of Balzac with the Dostoyevskyan conception of Evil as a supreme form of indifference, and sending forth a message of Tolstoyan charity and brotherhood towards all the Umberto D's who were once men, and who wait today, with resignation, for a cross on their graves….

Umberto D. bitterly reflects upon our consciences the vision of the inexorable fate of man's condition. But the theme of old age, although essential, is integrated by the skillful and vigorous "encadrement" of a man within a particular time, in a specific society, whose actions are pitilessly vivisected. The problem acquires therefore much larger proportions, posing deeper questions about our contemporary society.

To quote Herman G. Weinberg: "Forget all the gaudy superlatives, long since tarnished with mis-use, and find new ones for Umberto D. Here is that rarest thing in films, a work of the most uncompromising honesty. This is, indeed, so rare as to make Umberto D. shine like the proverbial 'good deed in a naughty world'—the good deed in this case being a film of the purest luminosity." (p. 30)

George N. Fenin, "'Umberto D.'," in Film Culture (copyright 1955 by Film Culture), Vol. 1, Nos. 5-6, Winter, 1955, pp. 30-1.

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