Appellate Judge Tom Becker got a Stromboli on his journey to Little Italy.
Pray believe in my enthusiasm.
Whenever I hear a word like Kardashian or Cyrus (or "Housewife"), and the word "Scandal" is attached to it, I can't help but think: People really need to brush up on celeb history.
Scandals aren't built on silly nobodies dancing in body suits or appearing in sex tapes. Real scandals are built on things like passion, and intrigue, and betrayal.
Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds? That was a scandal.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton? That was a scandal.
Zsa Zsa Gabor and Porfirio Rubirosa? That was a scandal.
And then there was the Ingrid Bergman/Roberto Rossellini affair. That was a huge scandal, so outrageous that Bergman was actually denounced by the U.S. Senate.
Of course, Bergman wasn't some socialite or starlet when she took up with the Italian director. She was well into her 30s, and near iconic, having played nuns and saints, and many a woman wronged. She was also a wife and a mother; she was still married when she gave birth to Rossellini's son.
Bergman and Rossellini weren't simply pretty people doing illicit things, they were artists. Rossellini directed Bergman in a number of films, starting with Stromboli (1950).
Stromboli, along with Europe '51 and Journey to Italy, are the 3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman being released for the first time in high-def from the Criterion Collection.
Facts of the Case
Stromboli: Karin (Bergman) meets Antonio (Mario Vitale) while she is in a Displaced Persons camp and he is an Italian soldier just after World War 2. They speak through the barbed wire, and although they have never touched, Antonio determines that he wants to marry Karin. When Karin is denied entry into Argentina, she consents, and accompanies Antonio to his home on the desolate island of Stromboli. When she arrives, she finds a bleak landscape, unwelcoming locals, and an active volcano—plus, a husband she barely knows, whose work as a fisherman she finds demeaning.
Europe '51: A glib socialite (Bergman) finds her world shattered by a tragedy. Trying to pick up the pieces, she finds herself drawn to the poor, sick, and unfortunate, helping them financially, trying to better their lives, and giving counsel and comfort. Unfortunately, her husband and family do not understand. They see only sinister things in her actions.
Journey to Italy: Mr. and Mrs. Joyce (George Sanders, All About Eve, and Bergman) travel to Italy to sell a property, an estate owned by Mrs. Joyce's late uncle. Eight years into their marriage, the couple is finding that they really don't know each other, and what they are learning, they don't like. While the husband goes off with friends, the wife goes to a museum, a volcano, and other historical and cultural sites, and finds herself gradually affected by her surroundings.
Throughout the 1940s, Ingrid Bergman gave performances that showed a striking range and an unusual level of depth. Bergman was that rare actress who never seemed to play the same character twice. Sister Mary Benedict from The Bells of St. Mary's, Ilsa Lund from Casablanca, Alicia Huberman from Notorious, Paula Alquist from Gaslight—each woman was a unique creation.
And yet, each one is also distinctly Bergman: her humanity, her humor, and her sensitivity shone through; she was startlingly beautiful but never seemed unapproachable.
It's as though Rossellini studied the Bergman icon and set out to deconstruct it. He tapped into a part of Bergman that hadn't been explored: her primal side. In all three films, he presented her as a soul isolated, distinctly apart from the rest of the world.
Nowhere is this more evident than their first collaboration: Stromboli.
I had never seen Stromboli, and I really knew little about it beyond its legendary status as the film that brought Bergman and Rossellini together. I was under the impression that it was a dreary little potboiler that did nothing to burnish the reputations of its star or director. So, I was taken aback—the film is bitter, yet powerful, and features a shattering performance by Bergman in a wholly unsympathetic role; it's like nothing I'd seen her do before or after.
While Bergman was a master at playing conflicted, she'd never taken on a character as downright miserable as Karin. It's not only that she's unhappy on the island; there's a sense that Karin wouldn't be happy anywhere. She is, after all, a displaced person—physically, morally, and spiritually. She marries Antonio because she has no other options, but finds herself a veritable prisoner of the island, and an outcast as well. She's grasping and desperate, and in the end will do almost anything to escape—but escape to where? She is someone who has no place to go.
Bergman, of course, stands out like the proverbial sore thumb—as a beautiful Hollywood actress, she has no place in a neo-realist Italian drama. But that's the point: Karin is out of place on this island, largely because of her startling beauty and—as a woman on the island admonishes her—lack of modesty.
This is a searing, stunning portrait of desperation and a remarkable performance by Bergman.
In Europe '51, Bergman is again pulled off her pedestal, but then elevated to near sainthood—perhaps. Or perhaps she's not elevated at all, and is simply a desperate woman facing a spiritual crisis whose "good deeds" are both naive and harmful.
In either event, she is, again, a displaced person.
Rossellini's film comments on the price of being a nonconformist, and contains several political and religious allusions.
While the film could be seen as a simple allegory, ultimately it is anything but. Bergman seems to have only a tangential handle on her character, but her performance is anything but unsteady. It's as if the actress had to create this character as she went along, in much the way people create their own personas as reactions to their circumstances. We're never sure if this woman has truly decided to dedicate her life to helping others as a path of enlightenment, or if she's just losing her mind. At times, she seems a victim, a martyr; other times, perhaps a saint. Rossellini's arresting final image suggests that there are no easy answers, and one interpretation can be as valid as the other.
Bergman's complex performance helps keep the film grounded, preventing it from steering head-on into melodrama; in fact, for its U.S. release, Europe '51 was edited a bit to soften its religious and political subtexts, and rechristened The Greatest Love, a genuine "weepie." That the film wasn't successful in its American run is no surprise; its themes are more distant than the standard melodrama, and frankly, the dubbing is atrocious, with Giulietta Masina, playing a lower-class woman, sounding like her voice was pulled from an episode of Hazel.
The third film here, Journey to Italy, has been described as a masterpiece and the greatest film to come from the Rossellini/Bergman collaborations. It's a beautifully made story of cynicism countered by faith, and the ways culture and history affect our lives.
Bergman and Sanders play off each other well; there is enough bitterness between them to sink a dozen marriages. Sanders is particularly well used here, his patented sneering derisiveness just what the part needs.
This is a film in which so little of seeming importance happens, and yet every moment is of value. Be warned, though, as it might seem slow-going. It's also a bit of a letdown that the wrap-up comes across as abrupt and a bit tacked on.
In addition to several aspects of Italian culture, Journey to Italy references James Joyce: the couple's name, and a surprisingly transparent reference to Joyce's short story "The Dead," wherein Mrs. Joyce's description of seeing a boyfriend one last time is taken almost verbatim from the end of that story. After Bergman tells Sanders the story, I half expected her to announce that she'd pulled it from a book.
Overall, these are three very strong films that are well worthy of rediscovery.
Perhaps the weakest aspect of 3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman (Blu-ray) is the quality of the transfers. Since it's a Criterion release, I'm sure that they used the best available materials, and the booklet that accompanies the set goes into detail about the challenges of putting out a proper release for these films. This is probably as good as these will ever look; however, there is still a good deal of damage and fading as well as contrast problems. The exception is Journey to Italy, which looks very good. The audio tracks are remastered in LPCM Mono; like virtually all European films at the time that were aiming for an international audience, all audio was post-dubbed and tends to sound a bit unnatural.
The four-disc set comes laden with supplements.
• Both Stromboli and Europe '51 are presented in both English and Italian-language versions, with the prints running different lengths; that two versions of these films are contained on a single disc each, along with other supplements, means that the discs are a bit crowded and likely contributes to the less-than stellar visual quality.
• Each film gets an introduction from Rossellini, recorded for television in 1963.
• Each film gets an analysis by critic Adriano Apra.
• The Stromboli disc includes Rossellini Under the Volcano, a 1998 documentary in which director Nino Bizzarri went to the island of Stromboli and interviewed the people there about the film, including the lead actor Mario Vitale.
• Film historian Elena Dagrada offers background on Europe '51 and discusses the differences between the English-language and International versions.
• Journey to Italy includes a commentary by "filmmaker and theorist" Laura Mulvey.
Also on the Journey to Italy disc:
• Interviews with Ingrid and Isabella Rossellini, and a separate interview with Martin Scorcese.
• "Living and Departed," a 23-minute "visual essay" by critic Tad Gallagher.
• "Surprised by Death," a visual essay by critic James Quandt.
• "The Rossellinis on Capri" ("A Short Visit with the Rossellini Family"), which seems to be a short promotional film shot during the making of Journey to Italy.
The fourth disc includes:
• Rossellini Through His Own Eyes, a 1992 documentary by Adriano Apra, that features archival interviews with Rossellini, Bergman, and others.
• "Ingrid Bergman Remembered," a 1996 documentary on the actress, hosted by her daughter, Pia Lindstrom.
• An interview with G. Fiorella Mariani, who talks about her friendship with Bergman; this piece features home movies shot by Bergman.
• "My Dad Is 100 Years Old," a 17-minute tribute film about Rossellini by Guy Maddin, starring Isabella Rossellini.
• "The Chicken," a short film by Rossellini starring Bergman.
And, of course, the booklet, this one an impressive 84 pages, filled with photos and essays, including one by Rossellini, as well as interviews with the director, and the correspondence between Bergman and Rossellini that led to their meeting.
As near as I can tell, this set marks the first Region 1 release for these films, something that's a little surprising considering their relevance in world cinema history.
Criterion has put together a fantastic, must-own set. Despite some carping about the visual quality of Stromboli and Europe '51, this is about as good as it gets for fans of Rossellini and/or Bergman, and the supplemental material makes this an unquestioned buy. Outstanding work all around.
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Scales of Justice, Stromboli
Perp Profile, Stromboli
Distinguishing Marks, Stromboli
Scales of Justice, Europe '51
Perp Profile, Europe '51
Distinguishing Marks, Europe '51
Scales of Justice, Journey To Italy
Perp Profile, Journey To Italy
Distinguishing Marks, Journey To Italy
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