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Umberto D. ~ Italian Neorealism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Romy Chiarotti at 12:51 pm on Friday, March 19, 2010

My experience in watching Umberto D. might have been slightly different because I speak Italian. In my experience of watching Italian films with subtitles, I’ve noticed that the subtitles never really do the dialogue justice. There are many Italian proverbs, sayings, and idioms that just can’t translate to English. It also helps to have an understanding of the culture.

Language aside, I was blown away by the realism that I thought I knew already. I have to admit, I haven’t seen too many movies made before the 1970’s-1980’s. While watching Umberto D., I tried to visualize the same movie with the same plot, same setting, and same actors… but made today. I feel like it would lose a bit of the depth, emotion, and most of all, the realism. Films at the time were limited to a low budget, with very primitive technology, which I believe added to the feeling of realism. Films today which claim to be “realistic”, although moving, lack a certain element that the post-war Italian neorealism films embraced. Perhaps the apparent lack of technology helped myself and all viewers feel what it is like to be as poor as Mr. Umberto. The limited technology also added to the idea of a limited lifestyle, as most citizens had under a fascist rule.

Some aspects of the film that added to the realism and personally effected me were the long shots. Most Italian neorealism films used long shots to engage the audience to make them feel like they are actually witnessing real life vs. an edited movie. The long-shot scene from Umberto D. that stuck out to me was the one where Maria was walking around the kitchen cleaning up. The shot was about a minute or two long and had no soundtrack, just silence. There was no plot significance to the scene, it was merely a commentary on Maria’s everyday, silent life.  I felt as though I was pulled into that depressing kitchen with her.

Umberto D. was a commentary about the life of an average post-war Italian citizen. His story was like a microcosm of the world that the lower class lived under a fascist rule. It was a difficult time to make a film because of the censorship of Mussolini’s “LUCA” (L’Unione Cinematografica Educativa). Like most neorealistic Italian films at the time, Umberto D. was focused around an idea of liberal humanism. The director intended us to empathize with the main character.

One major thing that made me empathize with Umberto was, of course, Flike. I happen to be a huge dog lover. About an hour or so into the film, when Umberto was looking for Flike in the dog pound, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to sit through the rest of the movie. Since Prof. Herzog warned all of us dog lovers about the film, I was expecting something bad to happen to Flike. I was on the edge of my seat and on the verge of tears through that entire scene. I have a harder time watching dogs get hurt than people getting hurt or killed in movies. This is probably because dogs don’t understand what is happening when they get hit by a car or have to get Euthanized. This was particularly bad timing for me because I just got a puppy that I am absolutely in love with (pic below). Although I was crushed to see the other dogs go into that chamber… it was a huge relief to see Umberto reunite with Flike. As expected, I had the same roller coster of emotions at the end of the film when Umberto almost threw Flike in front of a train. It is an absolute shame that there weren’t more options for unwanted pets back then.

my puppy

Going back on the censorship aspect… after watching Umberto D., I got the idea that the post-war films were heavily censored. There seemed to be a lot of oppertunities for dark moments in the film that were avoided. It wasn’t until I saw a clip of Roma, Citta Aperta (1945) that I realized that some Italian neorealism films were more gruesome, with a stronger political commentary (clip below).

Rossellini – Rome, Open City

P.S. The link to the clip is up there^ but can someone tell me how to embed the clip into the blog post?

It was a difficult time to make a film because of the censorship of Mussolini’s “LUCA” (L’Unione Cinematografica Educativa).
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1 Comment



March 22, 2010 @ 4:50 am

Great general analysis on the brutal realities faced by Europeans during Fascist control. Censorship, in all of its forms is nothing more than the enforcement of Orwellian Newspeak on the population. I can relate to your ancestral situation through virtue of my family being subject to the brutal fascist reign of Franco,under whose authority my grandfather was forced into a vicious POW camp after the Wars in Europe. We continually hear about the crimes of our ancestors, but we seldom hear about their hardships and harsh existence. Double-Standard much? On another note, I duly note about your sympathies with dogs in film, or in life in general. I think its because of the canine’s unwavering devotion, his unbreakbale loyalty, and his unconditional love, that we dog owners and lovers feel so compelled and moved by their plight.

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