Superlative Moments in Movie History

From de Sica’s Umberto D. (1951):

In this short scene, de Sica distills the entire film’s theme into the (non)interaction between these two characters. There are three scenes in Umberto D. that I think represent the height of Italian neorealism, and this is one of them. (The other two are the final scene, in which Umberto almost commits suicide, and an earlier scene in which Umberto, after losing his beloved dog Flag, finds him at the dog pound only moments before he is to be put down. Their reuniting, and the way Umberto hugs Flag with tears in his eyes, never ceases to make me cry no matter how many times I see the film; had Umberto lost Flag, he would have lost the last scrap of love he’d salvaged in a life of hopelessness.)

Umberto D. is not the saddest movie I’ve ever seen; it’s the most melancholy movie I’ve ever seen, which is worse (or better, depending on your disposition—I say better). Sad movies are often horrifying in the brutality and/or misfortune the characters endure. Schindler’s List, for example, is a sad movie. Strangely, I’m not as emotionally moved by sad movies. Umberto D., conversely, is a melancholy movie, and, as such, is far move emotionally traumatic for me.

Ultimately, de Sica’s Umberto D. is also one of the most realistic movies I’ve ever seen. In de Sica’s film, the characters are largely unremarkable, and largely unremarkable things happen to them. de Sica clears away the clutter of elaborate plot and narrative, giving us the space to recognize unadorned human emotion.

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