“I’ve never seen noise and boredom go so well together,” says Alex Joyce, watching an Italian sports car drive by.
It surprises me that the films Roberto Rossellini made with Ingrid Bergman (his wife at the time of their collaborations) weren’t commercially successful, especially since they were some of his most acclaimed films (Stromboli, Fear, Europe ’51). Perhaps their best collaboration was Journey To Italy, which featured Bergman and George Sanders and went on to become a masterpiece that was hailed by the French film journal Cahiers Du Cinéma as a groundbreaking modernist work, was influential on the films of Michelangelo Antonioni in the 1960s, and also happens to be a personal favorite of Martin Scorsese. I got a chance to see Journey To Italy over two years on the big screen at Film Forum in New York City in a gorgeous new restoration, and it was an incredible experience from start to finish. This review of Journey To Italy is my entry in the Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema.
Loosely based on the novel Duo by Colette, 1954’s Journey to Italy follows an English couple as they cope with their declining marriage during a trip to the countryside near Naples, Italy, to sell a villa that they inherited from a dead uncle. Rossellini assembled a terrific cast that includes Bergman (as Katherine Joyce), Sanders (as Alex Joyce), Maria Mauban (as Marie), Anna Proclemer (as the prostitute), Paul Müller (as Paul Dupont), Leslie Daniels (as Tony Burton), Natalia Ray (as Natalie Burton), and Jackie Frost (as Betty). Bergman is superb as Katherine, a woman in search of emotional and spiritual fulfillment while enduring an empty marriage. Sanders is in fine form as Alex; his emotional distance to Katherine speaks volumes about his character, and his sarcastic remarks are hilarious yet cold and hurtful. Enzo Serafin’s black-and-white cinematography reflects the tone of the film while maintaining the neo-realist look of Rossellini’s previous works.
I find it fascinating how Rossellini contrasts the beautiful Italian landscape with a narrative of a couple’s deteriorating marriage. He brings his neo-realist touch here (as he did in his previous films), and the wondrous sights of Italy are among the highlights of the film (as well as functioning as almost another character in the story). Although the Joyce’s journey over the course of the film shines a light on the decline of their marriage, it is also suggested that there may still yet be hope for them. The sequence in Pompeii is perhaps the most moving; Alex and Katherine watch archaeologists exhume the plaster casts of a man and a woman who were embracing each other as they were buried under lava thousands of years before (their walk through the ruins afterward serving as a metaphor for their marriage). Rossellini’s Journey To Italy is an incredible masterwork that has endured for over 60 years, featuring excellent performances from its two leads and an atmosphere that builds and builds toward an emotionally powerful finale.