Some filmmakers make you laugh, some warm your heart, some inspire contemplation. Postwar Italian legend Vittorio De Sica makes us cry. And "Umberto D.," to borrow a line from Orson Welles, "could make a stony cry."
The crushing story of the titular man, lost in post-War Italy living only on his pension and constantly struggling in search for necessities like a home or a friend; his only companion being his beloved dog, Flike (don’t count on that ending well.) De Sica’s masterpiece isn’t just a crushing drama, nor is it just a masterful evocation of place and time (it’s filmed entirely with nonprofessionals,) but is also a story told with incredible economy, running under 90 minutes. De Sica was as great a craftsman as he was a storyteller.
Which is why it’s so fitting that Criterion goes over-the-top, as they have yet again, using extra features to illuminate the many facets, themes, and styles imbedded in his work. The one-hour documentary profiling De Sica included within, "That’s Life," would be worth full price on its own. Past that, you get a 10-minute interview with an actress, and the usual collection of re-release trailers and academic essays; but it’s the documentary (originated from Italian television) that earns the trump. It’s a worthwhile, probing look into both his life and his work, creating some interesting connections between the two along the way. This is one of the most worthwhile extras on disc in a long time.
De Sica’s "Umberto" is as painful as it is honest, and on a par with his better-known "Bicycle Thieves" as perhaps the defining work of post-WWII Italian cinema. It may make you cry, but you’ll go back for more anyway.