In many ways, the journey taken by the British couple at the heart of Journey to Italy is a journey of engagement with the world around them. What begins as purely a necessary trip to deal with the estate of a deceased expatriate relative becomes an awakening of the senses and of the mind: not so much a surrendering to la dolce vita as a realization of all that is passing them by.
Katherine (Ingrid Bergman) and Alexander (George Sanders) have outwardly a good enough marriage, but once taken off their comfortable London surroundings and transplanted to the countryside outside Naples, in the shadow of the volcano, they suddenly discover how little they have in common and how their entire relationship has excluded intimacy. What follows, in Roberto Rossellini's typically thoughtful and pared down melodrama of falling out and back in love, is the story of two people "looking for love in all the wrong places", or trying to rediscover what it is they thought they saw in each other: Katherine looks toward the spirit (poetry, art, sightseeing), Alex towards the flesh (his discreet, and not entirely successful, womanizing).
Katherine surrenders to what surrounds her, Alex resists it, their seesawing between the need to maintain appearances and their desire to let go of social codes made visible in the luminous, solar b&w lensing by DP Enzo Serafin. It's far too easy to reduce it to a simple matter of "uptight Brits letting go of their problems in the sunny South", because Mr. Rossellini is aiming at a much deeper and more resonating voyage of self-discovery - one that isn't all about pat self-help issues but almost bubbles up from the soil until it becomes impossible to avoid it.
And no wonder it all comes to a boil along with the discovery of the lava-encased bodies of the Pompeii couple uncovered while they're visiting: it's almost a volcanic eruption of emotion and understanding that makes it clear to Katherine and Alex that their relationship is at a crossroads. Mr. Rossellini has not needed to spell it out loud in block letters, just let it simmer beneath the surface until that outpouring of emotion that inscribes Journey to Italy in the director's grand tradition of spiritual meditations on the simplicity of life and love in a world awash in almost unbearable complexity.
VIAGGIO IN ITALIA
Italy, France, 1954
Cast Ingrid Bergman, George Sanders, Marie Mauban, Anna Proclemer, Paul Muller, Leslie Daniels, Natalia Rai, Jackie Frost
Director Roberto Rossellini; screenwriters Vitaliano Brancati and Mr. Rossellini; cinematographer Enzo Serafin (b&w); composer Renzo Rossellini; art director Piero Filippone; costumes Fernanda Gattinoni; editor Jolanda Benvenuti; production companies Sveva Film, Junior Film, Italiafilm and SGC
Screened March 19th 2015, Medeia Monumental 4, Lisbon (distributor press screening)