Journey to Italy

Film Criticism, Movies

Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy chronicles the troubled marriage of Alex (George Sanders) and Katherine (Ingrid Bergman) Joyce as they travel to the outskirts of Naples to settle the estate of one of Alex’s uncles. Alex and Katherine are cold toward and distant from each other. At times, they are borderline cruel as Alex flirts with female friends and Katherine waxes nostalgic about an old male friend. Eventually, they spend time apart, with Alex attempting to seduce a married woman and contemplating hiring a prostitute. Katherine spends her time visiting museums and historic sites. On the verge of divorce, the couple are pressured into going to an archaeological site at Pompeii, where Katherine breaks down at the sight of entombed bodies. While trying to leave Italy, they are caught in a religious procession and have a last minute change of heart about divorcing. Both Sanders and Bergman are heartbreakingly perfect in their roles.

Because of its partially improvised storytelling, its poetic yet simple visual style, and its cold realistic look at marriage, Journey to Italy is often credited as an inspiration for the French New Wave, which is probably a significant reason it’s on the BFI’s 50 Greatest Films of All Time list. Its understated style lends subtle power to what could have been a cloyingly melodramatic tale.

The strength of the films lies in the increasingly devastating ways the couple drifts apart. It does a great job convincing the viewer that these two people do not belong together, which is why the last minute change of heart rings a little false for me. Wanting these people to move on with their lives, I found their coming back together somewhat depressing, which may have been Rossellini’s intent. Given what we witnessed for most of the film, it’s sad to think that these people will just keep clinging to an unsatisfying relationship. It’s not so much the depressing ending that turned me off a bit but the seeming unlikeliness that it would happen.

Unfortunately, the version I watched was in pretty bad shape. Criterion has an edition but Netflix doesn’t offer it. According to the Criterion list, it is available via Hulu Plus, but I was unable to locate it via the Hulu Plus interface, so I ended up streaming an old, beat up, out of sync version from Amazon. I have to admit that the poor quality of the transfer detracted from the experience.

  1. Metropolis (1927)
  2. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  3. Citizen Kane (1941)
  4. Rashomon (1950)
  5. Tokyo Story (1953)
  6. The Rules of the Game (1939)
  7. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
  8. City Lights (1931)
  9. Seven Samurai (1954)
  10. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
  11. Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)
  12. The General (1926)
  13. Journey to Italy (1954)
  14. The Man with the Movie Camera (1929)
  15. Late Spring (1949)
  16. L’Atalante (1934)
  17. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  18. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Next Up: Ordet. I don’t know much about this film. It’s directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, who also directed The Passion of Joan of Arc, which is currently last on my list.