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The art of nothing happening:a man,a woman,and a car.
on 21 August 2013
Having seen the Journey to Italy by Rossellini for the 1st time I was struck by its depiction of a couple's unhappiness,Alex(George Sanders) and Katherine( Ingrid Bergman),after they come to Italy on holiday for the purpose of selling his uncle's villa near Naples and going sight-seeing.It's a gentle film that manages to open up Katherine to the splendours and wonders of the pagan past in statues,catacombs,the cave of the Cumaean Sibyl, Pompeii,hot lava around Vesuvius.She realises her husband would rather go to Capri and be with his friends, so they spend some time apart. She hates his cynicism and arrogance,his always thinking he's in the right.She remarks to him after seeing some pagan statues how without shame the works of art are. She is disturbed by the visible fertility of the Italian women on the streets - there don't seem to be any who aren't pregnant - and she remembers a poet she once knew who had a few platitudes to offer about death and ruins and the like. But her heart is not in this romance with reminders of time and mortality any more than Alex is really going to go philandering.George Sanders plays boredom and blandness to perfection, mixing them up.Their only pleasure comes at snapping at each other,or being jealous if they think their partner is enjoying the company of the opposite sex.
All this comes across so clearly because neither of these actors is all that comfortable in the roles they have, and their ineptness/anxiety begins to look like a truth about the marriage, and the fact that they're out of their element in a foreign country, aliens in a neo-realist Italy.It's as if you' re watching a real life marriedcouple. Rossellini doesn't dramatize this.He allows you to see their discomfort,and gradually he makes us aware of something affecting this couple:sounds of people laughing,talking, street-vendors, drifting up from below,that seep into their subconscious and senses,a strange elusive presence,painful,but they're beginning to feel things again and Rosselini makes us a part of their experience.At the museum this background presence suddenly reveals itself to us-Italy and its ancient past.This past is everywhere and it's very much alive.Nothing is explained. Rossellini is like a scientist,he sets up 2 people in a foreign land and sees how they react,cope. Small details are allowed toaccumulate not high drama.When Katherine 1st opens her eyes,she's not prepared for Italy and its effect on her.Alex keeps resisting,trying to avoid his feelings. The contrast is not high -lighted. She's moved at the catacombs by all these lives that have come and gone before hers.Real people who enjoyed life and suffered like her, not relics.The small details and events are the movie.You realize they have no children, when she sees children.
When Alex returns to Naples and he's not yet ready to see his wife and she pretends to be asleep then startsasking him questions,the dialogue between the 2 is less important than the feelings behind it,the essence of Journey to Italy.Pompeii is the very 1st time in the film they visit a site together.The uncovered body-casts of what seems like a married couple just at the moment they died affects them both. The final scene shows Katherine figuratively swept away by an environmental tide of emotional abandonment at the religious procession.They find themselves through the passion and chaos of life thrown once again upon each other's mutual need. A revolutionary film inspiring the New Wave's improvisation,experimentalism.Rossllini's introduction of the environment as a dynamic character in the lives of a married couple in crisis paved the way for the cinema of Antonioni.Above all this was a shot across the bows to Hollywood actors to strip away the actorly,left stranded in the modern world, picked out unawares by the camera,shocked by reality's energy.