With this film it would seem that the so-called ‘neo realist' movement in Italian film production reached its zenith. Political influence and the growing concern of the Italian film industry with markets abroad have shaped the course of later productions more towards less uncompromising subjects and with a definite eye to world-wide box office appeal.
Set in contemporary Rome it is a film of austerity with little plot in the normal sense, a series of everyday incidents minutely observed and recorded with, honesty and conviction, The tone is one of intimate, unrelenting gravity although there are passages of lyrical melancholy.
Umberto is a retired civil servant, a pensioner with no surviving family, few friends and a dog as his companion and chief object of his love. With no income but his pension. he is in arrears with his rent for his room in the apartment of a mercenary landlady.
In the hope of delaying eviction he goes to hospital on a slight pretext only to find on his return that his dog is missing. He retrieves the dog from the pound and in his vanishing world comes to feel that the only course left is suicide. He is prevented from this in a most moving episode with the clog and finally we leave Umberto and his companion to face old age with nothing but isolation and rejection left.
The film has a unique poetic power and in many ways appears to be the summit of a wonderful partnership - de Sica and Zavatini. Each bring to the film a seeking after truth. Jointly they recreate the reality of contemporary and universal problems, in this case, the tragedy of poverty and solitude in old age.