Viaggio in Italia
VIAGGIO IN ITALIA
(Journey to Italy; Voyage to Italy)
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Production: Italiafilm/Junior (Rome), Sveva Films/Ariane/Francinex/SGC (Paris); black and white; running time: 106 minutes, English version 84 minutes, some sources list 70 minutes. Released 1953.
Producer: Roberto Rossellini; screenplay: Vitaliano Brancati, Roberto Rossellini; photography: Enzo Serafin; camera operator: Aldo Scavarida; editor: Jolanda Benvenuti; sound recordist: Eraldo Giordani; art director: Piero Filippone; costumes: Fernanda Gattinoni; music: Renzo Rossellini.
Cast: Ingrid Bergman (Katherine Joyce); George Sanders (Alexander Joyce); Maria Mauban (Marie); Paul Muller (Paul Dupont); Leslie Daniels (Tony Burton); Natalia Ray (Natalia Burton); Anna Proclemer (Prostitute); Jackie Frost (Judy); Lyla Rocco (Miss Sinibaldi, Judy's friend); Bianca Maria Cesaroli (Judy's other friend).
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* * *
The five films that Rossellini made with Ingrid Bergman between 1950 and 1955 have still to receive their due recognition in the Anglo-Saxon world. The ridicule that was heaped on Stromboli can be largely attributed to the "scandal" of their personal relationship: more specifically, to the shock of the American public (and the critical establishment) on discovering that Bergman, who had become a national icon of female "niceness," was actually a woman with autonomous sexual desires and professional aspirations. The continuing neglect of the films outside circumscribed academic circles must be attributed to the overwhelming dominance of expectations of the "realistic" (something quite distinct from "realism"): most obviously, the use of post-synchronization is likely always to remain a problem, with Rossellini's indifference to the nationality of his actors ensuring that in every version of every film some performers will be patently dubbed. Beyond that (but not unconnected with it) is the uncertainty (a crucial manifestation of the films' distinction) as to what exactly they are really about. The aim of neo-realism in its early phase was the "truthful" depiction of contemporary social realities in as immediate and unmediated a way as possible. Yet the early neorealist films (Rome, Open City, Bicycle Thieves, etc.), for all the quasi-documentary ambitions and the frequent use of non-professionals, are always patently acted and are always patently fictions: the "reality" we are invited to scrutinize is a constructed one. Rome, Open City can be seen to draw on a whole array of cinematic conventions, schemata, and stereotypes (one extended sequence even evokes Hitchcock). As he developed, Rossellini seems to have found such a method and aesthetic increasingly suspect, and the notion of "filming the reality in front of the camera" acquires a new dimension. That "reality" (or a significant aspect of it) consists, after all, of a group of actors speaking constructed dialogue. Is Viaggio in Italia a film about a woman called Katherine Joyce (British upper-middle-class, with an undisguised and unexplained Swedish accent) or an actress called Ingrid Bergman? While never directly autobiographical, Bergman's roles in the Rossellini films invariably make oblique reference to aspects of her life, and Rossellini's demand for spontaneity (handing the actors their lines—or simply a rough indication of what they were to talk about—immediately before the take, allowing no time for rehearsal, refusing to permit more than an absolute minimum of retakes) was clearly motivated by the desire that she reveal herself rather than act a character.
This clearly troubles our relationship to the character on the screen. On one level, Bergman's characters are always our primary identification-figures: in Viaggio, we discover Italy as Bergman discovers it, sharing her experiences. Yet identification is constantly disturbed. Scene after scene returns us from what Katherine sees to Katherine seeing it: are we studying "Italy" with her, or studying her with "Italy" as catalyst? Then there is the question of our relationship to the film's Italy (a very selective Italy). On one level, Katherine's journey is as banal as possible: she is offered all the obvious sightseeing attractions (famous sculptures, catacombs, Pompeii), and the banality is emphasized by the recurrent use of tour guides monotonously reciting their standard commentaries. Yet through (and beyond) the banality Katherine reaches a transcendent experience that transforms her perception of reality—an experience that remains unarticulated in any explicit manner, but which we are invited both to share and to understand.
Early neo-realist theory and practice suggest that the movement was strongly committed to the depiction of the material world, of contemporary social/political actuality. What came to obsess Rossellini, however, was the possibility of revealing the spiritual through the strict presentation of the material and physical. The cinema has constructed a whole panoply of signifiers of "spiritual experience": a rhetoric of acting, music, lighting, focus, big close-ups, special effects. Rossellini, knowing that the spiritual can only be implied, never shown, rigorously eschews all such rhetoric, employing the simplest, seemingly transparent methodology. Katherine/Bergman is brought into contact with all those fundamentals of existence from which in our daily lives we try to insulate ourselves: the terrifying power and mysteriousness of nature; otherness; time, transcience, eternity; death. Her experience is conveyed to us obliquely, through the structuring of sequence upon sequence, culminating in her climactic utterance at Pompeii (on paper, a line of staggering banality, in its context one of the cinema's supreme moments), "Life is so short." The context (which is that of the entire film) transforms a cliché into a felt and lived essential truth.
The perfunctoriness of the ending (an apparent religious miracle, paralleled by the "miracle" of the couple's reconciliation) is often found problematic. It is helpful to recall that Rossellini and Bergman went on to make La paura (Fear), for which Rossellini shot two quite different (and contradictory) endings. As there, the ending of Viaggio is an admission of uncertainty as to what may happen: no guarantee is offered that the couple's problems have been resolved, or that the reconciliation is more than momentary. One might say that the film doesn't really end: it just stops.