One of the many tragedies in life is that a dog, man’s proverbial best friend, has a much shorter lifespan than its owner. Interpreting the ending of the neo-realist film Umberto D. is difficult because, although it ends on a somewhat hopeful note with the titular Umberto walking and playing with his dog Flike, it also struck me as very sad. Sure, they are together but for how long? Umberto just attempted suicide, who is to say he won’t try again? How long do either of them have left to live? How will they cope with being homeless?
This is one of the characteristics of the Italian neo-realist film movement. Endings don’t necessarily have to make sense or be neatly wrapped up. They focus more on realism, shooting on-location and using nonprofessional actors and dealing with harsh issues such as poverty and war in a realistic light. These films are almost the opposite of what Hollywood was coming out with during that time. Low-budget sets, non-glorified actors, emphasis on realism rather than escapism. These films are dreary and harsh, not just in story but also in looks.
They focused on real life, and as real life doesn’t begin and end neatly in a three-act structure, the films are particularly difficult to describe. What is Umberto D. about? A man and his dog living in a small apartment in post-war Italy. That last part about living in post-war Italy isn’t even that important in relation to the overall story (I use the word “story” because while the film does have a plot, it is in the loosest sense of the word). Neo-realist films, therefore, must be experienced.