Journey to Italy ★★★★

The first 90 minutes of Journey to Italy are four-and-a-half star stuff, a splendid depiction of a marriage teetering on the brink. The symbolism is rife with tension—being "tied down" in the catacombs; strong statues; excitement at parties; sexual lust with strangers. Every few minutes, there's some new allegory for the boredom and restlessness Alex (George Sanders) and Katherine (Ingrid Bergman) find themselves ensnared in when in each other's company. The reminders happen in scripted (tours, museums) and unscripted (parties, etc) settings. A perfect example—Alex's giddy response to positive attention from a beautiful, young Italian woman; she talks about being empty without the "disorder a man leaves behind;" then, suddenly, all is well with her husband and reality hits, but not without leaving a mark. And it all takes place on a trip to Italy to divest of a real estate asset, with Italy's "La Dolce Vita" backdrop, the lazy lifestyle that's in such contrast with the fast-twitch ways of home.

The voyage brings deep-rooted issues between Alex and Katherine bubbling to the surface, but they're not cliched hatred or one-dimensional problems. Did they just make the wrong choice? Are they slowly coming to grips with that as their squabbling wears them down? A quick nighttime drive past a couple huddled close offers Alex a glimpse of what he and Katherine are lacking, a scene that's visually reminiscent of the haunting little girl on a little island during the train ride in Spirited Away (bizarre analogy, I know). The drive makes him realize that everyone has their imperfections, that initial rushes of excitement are fleeting and not a salve for unhappiness or boredom.

But that ending; I just don't know. I can't help but feel it's a cop out. Oh, it sort of works from a believability perspective—Alex and Katherine recognize that a child isn't a magical solution; they seem ready to sadly accept that it's not meant to be; then, a crowd engulfs Katherine, full of marching religious figures and strong imagery,right after Alex spits out, "you've never even tried to understand me," and Katherine snaps back, "I despise you." As Katherine is swallowed up by the throngs, a realization that being engulfed in life's hardships was blinding them to what they actually have. Okay, fine. I can convince myself...and yet it feels wrong to me. It's impossible for me to shake the feeling that Journey to Italy would have had a much more powerful, lingering impact had it ended on a more nuanced note...one that didn't involve reconciliation, but acceptance and understanding of life's many directions. Time to ponder since I viewed this hasn't changed my perspective on this one iota. Still, there are so many fantastic things here that I can't even consider going any lower with my rating.