Blu-ray Review – Umberto D.
There is a lot of foreign cinema that I’m unfamiliar with, and I’m embarrassed to say that there are many movies from neorealist master Vittorio De Sica that I haven’t seen. Luckily I was given the opportunity to check out the Criterion Blu-ray release of one of his masterpieces, Umberto D.
The story follows Umberto Domenico Ferrari (Carlo Battisti), an elderly man struggling to survive day-to-day on a government pension, while fighting with his landlady Antonia (Lina Gennari) to keep from being evicted from his home. His only friends are his dog, Flicke, and Maria (Maria Pia Casilio), the servant who works for Antonia.
The film is incredibly sad, and can be tough to watch at times, but it never really feels like it is filling time. The performances by Carlo Battisti and Maria Pia Casilio are amazing…plus, the dog is incredible; if there were an Academy Award for animal performances, he certainly would’ve won it.
The HD transfer looked decent. A lot of dirt has been cleaned up from the image, but on a bigger television it does still feel a bit grainy. It isn’t particularly distracting, but you don’t feel the improvement of the image as you do on the Criterion release of The Royal Tenenbaums.
The audio seemed satisfactory, but unremarkable. I don’t think there is a lot you can really do with a mono track like this, but it sounds crisp.
If you already owned the Criterion DVD release of Umberto D., then this release provides nothing new; it is just an HD bump of the original release. Unfortunately, all the video in the special features is not HD-enhanced. Still, there is a decent amount of extra features to keep you entertained after the movie is over.
*That’s Life: Vittorio De Sica, a fifty-five-minute documentary made for Italian television in 2001:
An extensive documentary about Vittorio De Sica that unfortunately doesn’t really have a lot of focus and misses covering a lot of the topics you would want to hear about. Films such as Bicycle Thieves are totally glossed over, and even Umberto D. is only lightly touched upon. Given the extensive career De Sica had, it is hard to fault them for wanting to include as much as possible, but it never feels quite satisfying.
The strengths of the documentary are definitely the discussion of De Sica’s work as an actor and his relationship with Sophia Loren, who won an Academy Award for Two Women and was nominated for one for Marriage Italian Style, both of which were directed by De Sica.
*Video interview with actress Maria Pia Casilio from 2003:
While it is a bit on the brief side, it is really fascinating to hear about Maria Pia Casilio’s road to the movie, and how the role of Maria fell into her reluctant lap.
*A booklet featuring an essay by critic Stuart Klawans and reprinted recollections by De Sica and Carlo Battisti, who plays Umberto D.:
Probably my favorite part of the extras was the collection of written works about the movie. It is fascinating to get to see inside the minds of De Sica and Battisti, both of whom have been dead for over 35 years. It feels like the closest thing to getting the behind the scenes story that you could get. Additionally, film critic Stuart Klawans adds a nice bit of modern perspective to the importance of the film, something that resonates with me after having seen it for my first time.
If you don’t already own the film, I would definitely suggest picking it up, since it is a true classic and this is a solid release for it. If you happen to already own the Criterion DVD release, I would say it is safe to skip the Blu-ray release, but you already know how great of a package it is.
Overall Release Grade: B-