The Old Man and Deceasing

15 Sep 2013: Umberto D (DVD, 1952, Vittorio De Sica)

Prior to this I would not have associated refined cinematographic language too much with neorealism – even my memory of Bicycle Thieves for instance does not call to mind any particularly striking images – but Umberto D abounds with distinct and augmentative compositions, from uncentered close-ups on the title character to high-angle views of the pensioners’ protest that opens the film. There’s complexity to its seemingly simple story, too, in that resonant moments of joy and ambiguity and quotidian languidness disrupt a narrative otherwise rather dour and miserable – the aged title character is desperate for cash to pay his frigid (and laughably aspirational) landlady so that he’s not thrown to the streets, but he shares many tender conversations with the youthful apartment cleaning lady as well as his dog. Similarities appear with the previous entry as to the low-key nature of the drama and its economic circumstances, but the difference here is both in the artfulness of the presentation and the depth to the characters, who speak not just in jargon-patter and petty arguments but have individual voices and actual things to say with them about the world they live in. The landlady as a self-imagined high-society type who dresses smartly and practices opera, always flanked by men in business suits who say nothing except for shaking their heads with disdain at those who are worse off, makes for a great symbol for a particular class’s picture of itself as cultured and elite even as this comes at the full expense of people too busy doing their time or paying their dues to impress anyone else.

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