Journey to Italy ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Rossellini's loose, on-the-run approach is splendidly well-suited to an unfolding chasm between a couple (Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders) who, like so many one runs across in the real world, seem as if they never could've possibly fit together in the first place, fused with a mournful travelogue -- as though Dodsworth spent much of its time following the sightseeing excursions Walter Huston went on to distract himself. This is regarded as a pivotal moment between neorealism and Nouvelle Vague, which seems right by virtue if nothing else of the achingly minimalist performances; both Sanders and Bergman, so frequently magical in Hollywood pictures (both had won Oscars by this point), sink their teeth deeply into an opportunity to play this naturally in a manner that no studio would ever allow, though the script does let Sanders fall back on his traditional cad persona a bit. There is some registration of his character's pain, but far more of the wrestling and fear of an uncertain, morbid future that go on inside Bergman's Katherine as she wanders Naples and the Catacombs with the weight of a lifetime of regret and distance hanging over her. It's all quite painfully believable, and without relying on contrived miscommunication, captures impeccably both the avoidance and frequent impossibility of bringing one's feelings into the air in a difficult relationship, and the manner in which the specific kind of despair engendered by a life like this hangs over everything, makes the broad and vivid world almost invisible. This is all achieved without casting us as leering observers in the manner of Bicycle Thieves and La Terra Trema; the dialogue has no poetic distance, the camera seeks no beautification of misery, yet the characters' hearts are always unmistakable and the picture does not shy away from their torment.

Without wanting to call a master like Rossellini into question -- and lord, how this makes me wish more European masters got to work with stars of this caliber -- I had, let's say, issues with the ending: the abruptness, which so bluntly contradicts the languid pacing and ambiguity of so much prior, as well as what seems to be a shot of spiritual messaging, whereby a religious procession serves the same purpose for this couple as the wedding, and suddenly they are in each other's arms. It is difficult to accept this at face value; Sanders' Alex Joyce is too far gone as an empathetic human being, no matter how much his constant sniping is a cultivated defense -- because really, a defense against what? -- for me to trust his reluctant "I love you." I get the feeling, however, that Rossellini intends for this to be as miraculous as the end of Ordet, but to me it registers more as the sickeningly insufficient bow on top of Au Hasard Balthazar: an hour and a half of misery, meant to be redeemed by a moment of transcendence, of waking up to the world. Frankly, an unceremonious parting would've been more in the spirit of the film for me, and in a strange way, also more uplifting -- because it would seem to bring an actual end to the poison. For all I know, that's the idea.

Nathan liked this review