Stromboli was the moment when Hollywood star Ingrid Bergman and Italian neo-realist director Roberto Rossellini met — initially to make a film, but then entering a long-standing personal and professional relationship that pretty much froze her stardom and her American profile. What came to be known as an austere art-house film actually recycles many of the standard concepts of the Hollywood woman's picture, and underlines just how much Mr. Rossellini's approach to filmmaking (shooting on location with mostly non-professional actors) is the key difference between his compassionate moral meditations and the more straight-forward feminine weepies.
Ms. Bergman, luminous and never lovelier, plays a desperate, strong-headed woman who resists the roles society wants to reduce her to - in fact, Lithuanian war refugee Karin Bjornsen is a double or mirror image of the actress' own predicament as she travels to the Italian volcanic island of Stromboli, following the soldier (Mario Vitale) she fell in love with and married as a way out of the internment camp she was living in. A sophisticated, cosmopolitan woman suddenly thrown into a patriarchal microcosm of poverty and hardship, Karin feels herself a stifling, dying flower, like the tuna fish that struggles helplessly to survive as he is fished by the island's boats.
A shrew that tries her best to allow herself to be tamed but finds her nature fighting back, for all that prevents her from being openly accepted by the close-mindedness of the local society neither Ms. Bergman nor Mr. Rossellini paint her as conniving or callous. Karin is merely confused and yearning for the better life that she has never had, and fate has brought her to Stromboli as the place for the final showdown with her destiny.
Truly a tale of redemption as Karin literally goes through hell - a hell in the shape of a granitic mountain whose climb is not so much an ascension as it is a descent - Stromboli is a film anchored in the intense grace and humanity of the actress' committed performance; no wonder that she and Mr. Rossellini entered an affair during its filmmaking, since he films her with the love the sincere Antonio must have seen in her, and she lets herself be filmed like a woman attempting to rediscover the truth behind the Hollywood facade. It's life turned into film, and film becoming life.
STROMBOLI, TERRA DI DIO
Cast Ingrid Bergman, Mario Vitale, Renzo Cesana, Mario Sponzo
Director Roberto Rossellini; screenwriters Sergio Amidei, G. P. Callegari, Art Cohn and Mr. Sponzo, from a story by Mr. Rossellini; cinematographer Otello Martelli (b&w); composer Renzo Rossellini; editor Jolanda Benvenuti; producer Mr. Rossellini; production company Berit Films
Screened March 18th 2015, Medeia Monumental 3, Lisbon (distributor press screening)