It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Umberto is upright, neat, exact, and the cut of his clothes shows that he was once respectable. Now he is a retired civil servant on a fixed income that is not enough to support him, not even in his simple furnished room, not even if he skips meals. He and his dog are faced with eviction by a greedy landlady who would rather rent his room by the afternoon to shame-faced couples.
Vittorio De Sica's "Umberto D" (1952) is the story of the old man's struggle to keep from falling from poverty into shame. It may be the best of the Italian neorealist films--the one that is most simply itself, and does not reach for its effects or strain to make its message clear. Even its scenes involving Umberto's little dog are told without the sentimentality that pets often bring into stories. Umberto loves the dog and the dog loves him because that is the nature of the bond between dogs and men, and both try to live up to their side of the contract.
The film is told without false drama. Even when Umberto calls the ambulance and has himself taken to the hospital, there is no false crisis, no manufactured fear that he will die. Later, when Umberto considers suicide, he goes about it in such a calm and logical way that we follow his reasoning and weigh the alternatives along with him, instead of being manipulated into dread. "Umberto D" avoids all temptations to turn its hero into one of those lovable Hollywood oldsters played by Matthau or Lemmon. Umberto Domenico Ferrari is not the life of any party but a man who wants to be left alone to get on with his business. In his shoes we might hope to behave as he does, with bravery and resourcefulness.
The movie follows its hero as he faces the possibility that he may lose his room and be turned into the streets to beg. He has always paid his bills and this prospect horrifies him. The opening shot shows him joining a street demonstration in Rome, as old men seek an increase in their meager state pensions. Umberto marches in the protest, but is not a joiner, and indeed when the police disperse the crowd he is angry not at the cops, but at the organizers: "They didn't even get a permit!" He smuggles his little dog Flag into a dining hall where the old are given free lunches, and slips his food under the table for the dog, while tricking the stern welfare workers with some quick plate-switching. He tries to sell his watch, but everyone has a watch they want to sell.