***/**** Image A- Sound B Extras B
starring Carlo Battisti, Maria Pia Casilio, Lina Gennari, Ileana Simova
screenplay by Cesare Zavattini
directed by Vittorio De Sica
by Walter Chaw Though he's best known for The Bicycle Thief, Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D. is, to my mind, the superior film, and ultimately one of the few pictures I've ever revisited from the era of Italian Neo-Realism--a movement I've never particularly understood nor, indeed, liked. It's possible that there's not much to understand, that as a reaction to the execution of Mussolini and during that brief "Italian Spring," Italian cinema, freed by necessity from the studio and looking to present a more authentic representation of the country's broken cities (film critics were to blame for the movement, of course, as they would later be for the French Nouvelle Vague), found non-professional actors to play out social melodramas. I wonder if I've always bristled at the notion that the Giuseppe De Santises and Luchino Viscontis produced during this time were anything like "realism" as I understood it; when I was first introduced to American films noir, I had no idea they were as stylized as they were because of an attempt at "realism," too. Whatever the case, I see Umberto D. as something like an early Fellini, like La Strada or even 8½: There's something that feels very much like a humanistic solipsism at its middle. Which is so much more interesting than the cries for social equality that inevitably turn to plaintive keening in my ear. Sometimes liberals damage their own cause--long-held close-ups of crying children have a way of doing that.