Journey to Italy (1954)

“They say all Neapolitans are indolent. But you tell me, can you call a castaway indolent? In a way, we’re all castaways. We have to fight so hard just to stay afloat.”

‘Journey to Italy’, directed by Roberto Rossellini in 1954, is an Italian drama starring Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders. Bergman and Sanders play Katherine and Alex Joyce, an English couple who travel down through Italy to sell a house in Naples. Throughout their journey we watch as their marriage slowly disintegrates, firstly through snide comments and arguments, and finally as they part company and tour the sites separately. It’s a chilly, remote film, appropriate to the subject matter. There is an irony in the way Rossellini presents a country known for romance as the agency for the breakdown, and then this irony is compounded by a scene in Pompeii where the sight of a buried and fossilised couple put the marriage of Katherine and Alex into perspective. It’s an energetically shot movie that feels like a chamber piece that has been exploded, with rich locations and the screen filled with interest.  Rossellini’s camera flicks and pans obsessively around, mimicking the touristic gaze of his protagonists – watching but only half noticing. The movie was released at the same time as Federico Fellini’s ‘La Strada’, another Italian road trip with a disintegrating relationship, but Fellini’s movie felt fresh and new, the start of his move towards more abstract, Jungian themes. As such, Rossellini’s film feels like it is from the past but is, as a result, caught between the two posts of his classic neo-realist films such as ‘Rome, Open City’, and Fellini’s new and vibrant reinvention of Italian cinema. It may be a mistake to compare this to films around it. Taken on its own, ‘Journey to Italy’ is an exceptional creation: subtle, introverted and underplayed. Rossellini’s trick is to combine the national stereotypes of Britain and Italy (repression and romance) and to create a tense, absorbing drama out of them.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a short, emotionally engaging film that draws you into a nightmare of marital disharmony. Watch in a double bill with ‘La Strada’ or even ‘Roman Holiday’ for a good contrast.

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