I’ll admit that Italian cinema is a massive blindspot in my film knowledge and viewing. I’ve seen a few of the big films like Bicycle Thieves (1948, dir. Vittorio de Sica), and 8 1/2 (1963, dir. Frederico Fellini), and some newer stuff like Cinema Paradiso (1988, dir. Giuseppe Tornatore) and Life is Beautiful (1997, dir. Roberto Benign). Beyond those four films — and a few others — however, I’m extremely ignorant of Italian movies. Once I discovered foreign cinema I mainly stuck to Japanese films with a few French and German films for flavor, but Italy just never grabbed my attention.
Anyway, the Martin Scorsese list of 85 films I’m currently going through has a lot of Italian films on it, so I’m basically forcing myself to watch them. Using the word force makes it sound bad, which I don’t intend to do, but I mean that the list is giving me the opportunity to go through and discover films from this country. As I was saying, the Scorsese list has a large number of Italian films, many of which are directed by Roberto Rossellini. I had previously seen one Rossellini film, Rome, Open City (1945), which I liked but just wasn’t foaming at the mouth over. I’m a fan of the aesthetic sensibilities of the neorealism movement, but remained unmoved by the film. Bicycle Thieves, on the other hand, was a stirring and heartbreaking experience for 15 year old me, but I digress.
So far from the Rossellini films on the Scorsese list I’ve watched Stromboli (1950) and
Journey to Italy (1954). These two films, along with a few others, were early films in a collaboration (and adulterous relationship) between Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman. The results of this collaboration are romantic and pessimistic, but always stirring in one way or another. If I’m to be quite honest, however, Stromboli left me extremely cold and unmoved aside from Bergman’s heartbreaking performance. Truthfully, I felt it was a bit dull and uninteresting. This left me a bit apprehensive toward the rest of these Italian films I would be watching, thus I cautiously approached Journey to Italy one night on Hulu.
Thankfully I found this film more interesting than its predecessor. The film mainly revolves around an English couple visiting Italy and slowly reveals how their marriage is in absolute shambles. She is still hung up on a dead poet she once knew, meanwhile he finds his eye wandering toward any pretty young woman in the room. They clearly hate each other but clearly are so dependent on one another that the idea of separating hurts: it’s quite the pickle. The conflict between the two, and their need of distance and time apart, is the main driving force of the narrative: they just hate being around one another and know it, but they cannot stand the idea of the other being with someone else. Other than this marital drama there is not much plot, which isn’t a bad thing in my opinion, as instead of focusing on forced drama the film just wanders through the emotions of the characters. It’s very nicely handled.
The photography is also splendid and paints every image is beautiful black, grey, and white. In a lot of ways it reminds me of another neorealist film, Pather Panchali (1955, dir. Satyajit Ray), of which I am very fond. I know for a fact that Satyajit Ray was inspired by Bicycle Thieves, but find myself wondering if he had seen the films of Rossellini. I’m sure he had, but can’t be certain. Anyway, the way the faces are photographed — the way the character’s eyes tell the story — reminds me of Pather Panchali.
Journey to Italy was an exciting film to watch. It’s certainly heartbreaking and heavy, but it never turns unbearable. It also avoids being dull, which was my main complaint with Rome, Open City and Stromboli. Here Rossellini really lets the drama of the characters emotions tell the story instead of trying to force a narrative into the film. By the end of the movie when the evil word “divorce” is first uttered it seems entirely reasonable — after all this man and woman hate one another — and is completely unsurprising, and yet emotions are tricky.