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At about the same time La macchina ammazzacattivi was being shot, Ingrid Bergman, then at the height of her popularity, wandered into a small "art house" in Los Angeles with her husband, Petter Lindstrom, to see the film that all serious film people had been talking about—Open City . The film was already three years old, but the effect was staggering. After the screening, Bergman turned to her husband and said: "Petter, we must get this director's name straight. If there is such a man who can put this on the screen, he must be an absolutely heavenly being!"[1]

It is revealing that even at the moment of this initial contact, Bergman should translate her emotional experience of the film into a fascination with its director. Later in her autobiography, in fact, she admits that "deep down I was in love with Roberto from the moment I saw Open City , for I could never get over the fact that he was always there in my thoughts. . . . Probably, subconsciously, he offered a way out from both my problems: my marriage and my life in Hollywood" (pp. 210–11).

A few months later Bergman saw Paisan alone, in an empty theater, and decided that if this wonderful director only had a "big name" actress to work with, "then maybe people would come and see his pictures." She wrote him the following letter:

Dear Mr. Rossellini:

I saw your films Open City and Paisan , and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who, in Italian knows only "ti amo" I am ready to come and make a film with you (pp. 4–5).[2]


In his excited response, Rossellini outlined at great length the film that was to become Stromboli . It concerned an East European refugee who marries a poor, uneducated fisherman from the volcanic island of Stromboli (pronounced with the accent on the first syllable), off the coast of Sicily, in order to escape the refugee camp. It is clear from Rossellini's letter that Bergman had quickly become bound up with his entire idea of the film: "I tried to imagine the life of the Latvian girl, so tall, so fair, in this island of fire and ashes, amidst the fishermen, small and swarthy, amongst the women with the glowing eyes, pale and deformed by childbirth, with no means to communicate with these people" (pp. 8–9). Her husband "lives beside her and loves her with a kind of savage fury . . . just like an animal not knowing how to struggle for life and accepting placidly to live in the deepest misery." Once she realizes she is pregnant, the woman tries to escape the harsh, uncomprehending life of the island by climbing over the volcano. Rossellini's letter continues:

Frantic with despair, unable to withstand it any longer, she yet entertains an ultimate hope of a miracle that will save her—not realizing that a profound change is already operating within herself. Suddenly the woman understands the value of the eternal truth which rules human lives; she understands the mighty power of her who possesses nothing, this extraordinary strength which procures complete freedom. In reality she becomes another St. Francis. An intense feeling of joy springs out from her heart, an immense joy of living (p. 9).

What is perhaps most noteworthy in this treatment is Rossellini's obvious desire to represent women as real people with real difficulties and, like men, people who have to struggle with moral choices. As such, his project must have seemed enormously appealing to an actress who had probably reached her creative limit in Hollywood. As a popular magazine article of the time sympathetically, and correctly, suggested, she seemed to be looking for new challenges, and her two most recent pictures, Joan of Arc and Arch of Triumph had failed at the box office. It is also clear that she wanted to do something more serious than these Hollywood vehicles had ever allowed her to do. As for Rossellini, after staying for several weeks in early 1949 at the Lindstrom house in California, he was, according to Sergio Amidei,

in a strange state of tension because what he was really interested in was capturing Ingrid not so much to make a film, and certainly not to make money, but for love, because he was completely in love. . . . There was also a little vanity involved. You have to realize what Italy was like in 1948, and what Bergman and Hollywood represented. What Bergman represented to a good-looking young Roman guy![3]

Originally, the film was to have been bankrolled by Sam Goldwyn, who had been pestering Bergman for years to make a picture with him. She had suggested Rossellini, and Goldwyn at first reacted favorably. A press conference was called, and Goldwyn proceeded to tell the reporters what the picture was going to be like. Unfortunately, his description did not at all accord with Rossellini's idea of things; Goldwyn then decided that he had better see more of Rossellini's work and arranged a screening of Germany, Year Zero . When the lights came back on at the end, there was only an embarrassed silence; everyone had obvi-


ously hated it. A few days later, Goldwyn called Bergman to tell her he could not produce the picture after all because Rossellini did not know anything about budgets and schedules (pp. 197–98).

The next financing possibility was Howard Hughes, who had also been after Bergman for some time and, according to the actress, with more in mind than just making a film. One day he called to tell her that he had just bought RKO so that she could do a film with him, and so when she was casting about for financing for Stromboli , she thought of Hughes. Even though he was totally uninterested in Rossellini's idea for the film, he agreed, thinking only of Bergman's next picture, which she would make in Hollywood for him.

Ingrid had been joyously greeted on her arrival in Italy, a country that had become thoroughly sick of its American liberators. In the words of Liana Ferri, who served as Rossellini's initial interpreter with Bergman, the symbolic value of Rossellini's "victory" was enormous. "Every woman in Rome was in love, it seemed, with an American soldier. . . . Then he had captured Ingrid. This great actress was in Italy to make a picture and she was in love with our Roberto Rossellini! 'Bravo, Roberto, bravo!' She had left that cold Nordic husband of hers. Now she would find the true meaning of life and love" (p. 208).

Rossellini, Bergman, and the rest of the sixty-five people in the crew sailed off on the four-hour boat trip to the forbidding island on April 4, 1949. The male leads, Mario Vitale (the husband, Antonio) and Mario Sponza (the lighthouse keeper from whom Karin seeks help), were played by fishermen the director had found in Salerno on the drive down the coast with Bergman. The priest who tries to help her accept her new life was an old classmate of Rossellini's, who the studio, at odds with the director concerning his improvisatory methods, had sent to provide a script. The house chosen for Karin and Antonio was so decrepit that it had to be shored up with wood, but because there was no wood on the island, an old boat had to be taken apart to provide it. Because of the appalling heat and dust, Rossellini was forced to shoot scenes over and over, contrary to his normal practice. Bergman had to become her own hairdresser, and do without make-up (or indoor plumbing). Nor was there a double for the difficult sequences—for instance, when she had to walk on jagged rocks through the water. Even more grueling was the incredible final scene, in which Bergman had to climb up the side of the active volcano—her hands, feet, and eyes actually burning—while violently gasping for breath. Hardly the treatment a Hollywood actress was accustomed to, and Bergman's persistence attests to her professionalism and, of course, her devotion to Rossellini. The conditions were, in fact, so bad that one of the director's assistants was overcome by the volcano's fumes and suffered a fatal heart attack.

Probably most difficult for Bergman was Rossellini's relaxed method of making films, without benefit of a prewritten script. She was appalled by his habit of writing out lines of script for the next day's shooting on a matchbox. Nor had she ever worked with nonprofessionals before, and she was amazed by Rossellini's system of yanking string tied to their toes as a signal for when they were to come in with their bits of dialogue. "I didn't have a string on my toe, so I didn't know when I was supposed to speak. And this was realistic film-making! The dialogue was never ready, or there never was any dialogue. I thought I was going


crazy!" (p. 231). At times she simply blew up at Rossellini, totally frustrated. A great deal of expense was also incurred waiting for the right weather and for the volcano to cooperate in the filming of the scene that takes place at the edge of the crater. As to the actual eruption itself, Rossellini later told an interviewer that the volcano fortuitously started erupting one day while they were filming. "I always have confidence that these things will work out," he said.[4]

But all of these difficulties were smoothed over by the simple fact that Rossellini and Bergman had gloriously, if unwisely, fallen in love. The whole thing was messy from the first: paparazzi had followed them everywhere along their automobile trip down the Italian coast; a Life photographer caught them, in an unguarded moment in Amalfi, holding hands. At the end of March, Bergman wrote her husband telling him that she wanted to stay with Rossellini. The first official reaction to the brewing scandal came from Joseph I. Breen, head of the Production Code Administration. In a letter to Bergman, he mentioned the "expressions of profound shock" he had encountered everywhere regarding her apparent plans to abandon husband and daughter to take up with Rossellini, given that she was the "first lady of the screen." He also warned her that "such stories will not only not react favorably to your picture, but may very well destroy your career as a motion picture artist . They may result in the American public becoming so thoroughly enraged that your pictures will be ignored, and your box-office value ruined." He then urged her to issue a denial immediately to stamp out "these reports that constitute a major scandal and may well result in complete disaster personally " (pp. 235–36; emphasis in original). Walter Wanger, the producer of Saint Joan , which had just been released, sent her a nasty cable that concluded, "Do not fool yourself by thinking that what you are doing is of such courageous proportions or so artistic as to excuse what ordinary people believe" (p. 237).

Friends like Irene Selznick soon began offering support, however, and things became a little easier. Ernest Hemingway wrote, "If you love Roberto truly give him our love and tell him he better be a damned good boy for you or Mister Papa will kill him some morning when he has a morning free" (p. 241). But Ingrid continued to suffer guilt at leaving her family. The situation became even more difficult and melodramatic when Petter showed up in Sicily to "talk things over," and the possessive Rossellini threw a fit.

In the meantime, RKO was becoming increasingly preoccupied by the fact that the filming had gone over schedule by a month and, more importantly, over its $600,000 budget. Rossellini was given an ultimatum in the middle of July that if the picture was not completed in a week it would be abandoned. Bergman and Rossellini replied, detailing the tremendous hardships they had had to endure, and were given a short extension. Finally, in early August the shooting was finished.

Then trouble began in earnest. First, the world found out that Bergman was pregnant with Rossellini's child and the paparazzi began their twenty-four-hour stakeouts in the hopes of getting pictures. The baby, Robertino, was finally born on February 2, 1950, and to avoid the photographers, mother and child escaped from the hospital some days later in the middle of the night. Even the Congress of the United States became obsessed by the love affair. On March 15, 1950,


Senator Edwin C. Johnson of Colorado introduced a punitive bill in the Senate to license "actresses, producers and films by a division of the Department of Commerce." He assumed that the entire scandal had been manufactured to boost box-office receipts and denounced the "disgusting publicity campaign . . . the nauseating commercial opportunism . . . the vile and unspeakable Rossellini who sets an all-time low in shameless exploitation and disregard for good public morals" (p. 273). On the floor of the United States Senate, he complained: "When Rossellini the love pirate returned to Rome smirking over his conquest, it was not Mrs. Lindstrom's scalp which hung from the conquering hero's belt; it was her very soul. Now Mrs. Petter Lindstrom, and what is left of her has brought two children into the world—one has no mother; the other is illegitimate" (p. 274). Significantly, he added that Bergman had once been his own favorite actress, and suggested that now she must either be suffering from schizophrenia or was under hypnotic influence, since "her unnatural attitude toward her own little girl surely indicates a mental abnormality." He concluded that "under our law no alien guilty of turpitude can set foot on American soil again. Mrs. Petter Lindstrom had deliberately exiled herself from a country which was so good to her" (p. 274).

Problems with RKO continued to build. The original idea was to make two versions of the film—one Italian and one English—and the Italian version technically belonged to the "Berit Company," which had been set up by Bergman and Rossellini. The stock of this company was to have been held in escrow, as protection for RKO, but Rossellini never turned over the stock, and RKO became increasingly concerned about its million-dollar investment as shooting proceeded. Finally, RKO seized the negatives of both versions, but was unable to send them out of the country without Berit's authorization. At this point, Harold Lewis, RKO's production chief, hid the negatives in Rome; when Rossellini returned from Stromboli and discovered the seizure, he refused to turn over the negatives from the final week's shooting. The compromise that was finally reached was that Rossellini was to surrender the film and put Berit's stock in escrow, and RKO would return the negatives of the Italian version and allow him to edit it in Rome. The final Italian version would then be sent to Hollywood to serve as a guide for editing the English version.

What happened, however, was that RKO edited the English-language version exactly as the studio wanted to, and the result was so different from the director's original conception that he disowned it. Making things worse, the film's release in the United States was accompanied by lurid posters with which, according to Hollywood producer Dore Schary, Howard Hughes meant to capitalize on the scandal. Schary characterizes the poster's volcano "as a rather obvious phallic symbol"; Eric Johnston of the Motion Picture Producers Association even threatened Hughes with expulsion if he did not withdraw the posters immediately.[5]

The problem in properly evaluating this film is that the version seen in the United States—probably the only version that will ever be seen—is precisely the one disowned by Rossellini. Hence, most analyses have been skewed from the very beginning by not having the proper text to work with. The English version is actually some twenty minuts shorter than its Italian counterpart, presumably


in order to "streamline" the plot. I will therefore want to consider the longer version in some detail, so as to begin to set the record straight. Most important, however, is the fact that the ending was drastically changed by the studio, though it must be said immediately that even Rossellini's ending is problematic in its religious emphasis and will not be to every viewer's taste. Nevertheless, I think a case can be made for the rightness of this ending, at least in terms of the dynamic that the film itself establishes. No such case can be made for RKO's version, however, and the utter unbelievability of its ending has long kept viewers from a proper appreciation of the film.

The primary differences between the two versions in the beginning and middle of the film are clear-cut. In the beginning of the Italian version, the credits play out against a background of clouds, perhaps clouds of smoke from the volcano. In the English version, however, they run against a map of the Mediterranean, with the camera dollying ever closer to the island of Stromboli as the credits continue. The point of all this is to set the events geographically, a typical Rossellini maneuver, and thus one suspects that here, at least, his plans for the English version were being heeded. Even more important than the map, however, is the footage of island life that immediately follows the credits. In the Italian version, the action begins in the refugee camp; in the English version, however, a crisp voice-over (the principal difference between the two versions) outlines the island's physical characteristics, how the people earn their living, and their ongoing, complicated relationship with that representative of death in their midst, the volcano. Only then does the voice-over of the English version move us to the displaced-person's camp, once the island's documentary reality has been set. Thus, the beginning, at least, of the version Rossellini felt compelled to disown is very close in spirit to his own practice.

The next great disparity is that many of the details of Karin's troublesome adaptation to island life are cut in RKO's version. For one thing, all the "useless" transition scenes are removed, such as the couple leaving the camp, catching the train, sailing on the big boat, transferring to the small boat, and so on. What remains, however, is melodramatically heightened. The young lighthouse keeper to whom Karin will later appeal, for example, is on the same boat, but in Rossellini's version, his possible importance to later events is only visually hinted at by a simple insert of him sitting on the floor of the boat. In the English version, however, the threat he represents is made clear by a strong dose of theme music. This version also rhetorically cuts to a much closer shot of the volcano's seething crater when they first arrive—a shot that is visually and narratively unmotivated—while the volcano's fearsomeness is further underlined by its rumbling on the sound track.

The most important changes, however (excluding the changes in the film's ending, which will be discussed later), come after the couple have had a violent quarrel. Karin has accused Antonio of not understanding that they are from different classes, telling him coldly that he will need much more money to take care of a woman like her. At the close of her outburst, she begins crying. In the English version, surprisingly, much of her crying is retained, far beyond the usual limits for such a scene. In Rossellini's version, however, the crying goes on even longer, and leads imperceptibly to several other narratively unfocused


scenes that establish the creative temps mort we last saw in the finale of Germany, Year Zero , and that hearken back to similar moments in Rossellini's pre–Open City trilogy. Here, the crying scene is dragged out so long that Karin seems to go through several different stages of grief, filling us with tension because the rules of conventional filmmaking are deliberately being flouted. She hears a baby crying, puts money in a purse, hides the purse, and, still whimpering, goes outside, where the sequence finally ends. It is here, in fact, that Rossellini's long-take technique, characteristic of nearly all his subsequent films, assumes its definitive shape.

The sequences that immediately follow have also been removed from the English version, presumably because nothing "happens" in them and the narrative is not overtly advanced. First, we are shown an extreme long shot from a completely vertical bird's-eye view, looking down on the town, which turns its poor houses and narrow alleyways into a highly stylized maze. Karin runs around frantically, like the laboratory mice in the later Fear , shouting, "I want to get out!" The film then cuts to other, similar vertical shots that continue the maze pattern for quite some time, nicely spatializing Karin's mental and physical situation. Meanwhile, the baby is still crying and Karin continues her search for this other form of human life on the island. She then finds a small boy and tries to speak to him in English and pidgin Italian: "Say something to me!" she begs him. "Talk! Talk!" (Again, the Rossellinian urge for communication.) Frustrated at his refusal, she walks disconsolately past bare trees, harsh rocks, and various cacti that serve as a Waste Land —like index to the islanders' spirit and her own increasing desperation, a motif that looks forward, again, to the films of Antonioni. Most importantly—and most technically daring for 1949—she leans over the rocks, the cactus behind her, and begins chewing a piece of grass and stroking her cheeks with it in what becomes an extremely long take. Karin's ability to find pleasure on this godforsaken island, we realize, is reduced to the simple sensuality of a blade of grass on her face. The very length of the shot, and its "purposelessness," has allowed us to know her in a way utterly different from the more obvious techniques of conventional film narrative.

When this part of the scene is over, the camera follows Karin back to her pitiful house, and there we find some old men who have begun fixing things up on her husband's orders. She begins talking to them, and it turns out that they have all returned from America because they are old and they want to be buried on the island when they die. One of them, the most ancient, adds a nice comic touch when he says that he is going back to Brooklyn in about ten years. This scene is also significant because it continues the theme of the desperate emigration long associated with the island, which finally becomes an obsession with Karin. Even more importantly, perhaps, the old men cheer her up. We realize that Karin, like people in real life, may shift moods drastically, even if this shifting appears "inconsistent" in classic realistic acting and narrative terms. Again, none of the scenes described above remains in the RKO version of the film.

Apart from the differences, though, the two versions obviously share a great deal of common ground, and it is on this that we should focus. For the most part, the film works in terms of paired oppositions, the principal being, of


course, that of Karin, the tall, fair, cold, somewhat awkward northerner, and Antonio, the short, swarthy, warm-blooded southerner, at home in his environment. Rossellini was fond of saying that the real division in the world was not between East and West, but between North and South, and this theme will reappear in the later Bergman films, most notably and most richly in Voyage to Italy . Here the contrast is always visually before us, given the physical characteristics of these two actors; Vitale, in fact, seems to have been chosen for the part precisely because his physiognomy contrasts so sharply with Bergman's.

Karin and Antonio's differences are stated immediately, accompanied by an overt use of symbols. Thus, when we first see them together in the camp, they are kept apart by barbed wire, which serves to suggest both the psychological and emotional separation that will continue to plague them, as well as the pain and violence they will inflict on each other. When they laughingly try to talk—in another appearance of Rossellini's obsessive language theme—they can barely make themselves understood, and in frustration Karin at one point says, "I don't understand!" He wants to marry her, he says, a proposition Karin welcomes as a way of escaping the hated camp. She says to him, "What if I'm different?" thus putting into play one of the film's key terms. Antonio responds by saying, "I know women and if you're different, I'll . . . " meanwhile laughing and making a hitting gesture that prefigures the sexual violence to come.

Some critics have felt that one of the flaws of the film is Bergman's "excessive prominence," to quote Pierre Leprohon. A variant of this theme—still the orthodox Hollywood version of the Rossellini-Bergman collaboration—is that Rossellini ruined both of their careers because he did not know how to use her properly. It is just as easy to claim, however, that Rossellini knew exactly what he was doing, for he clearly means to play her in counterpoint against type. As Karin, Bergman is complexly amoral, and the ambivalence of this role proved to be one more insuperable difficulty for those already outraged by the difference between her on-screen Hollywood roles (Joan of Arc and the nun in The Bells of St. Mary's , for example) and her "scandalous" real life as Rossellini's lover.

From the very beginning, Bergman smashes stereotypes; cold and calculating, Karin first does everything possible to get a visa to go to Argentina. The cutting itself nicely suggests causality, for after she tells her fellow "inmates" of her obsession with getting out of the camp, the film cuts to the scene of the hearing of the visa board. When her application is denied, we cut to her wedding, implying that this legal ceremony is merely an alternate version of the one that failed. Karin is distracted during the wedding mass and could not care less. Not coincidentally, one of the very first people she meets on her arrival on the island is the local priest, and it is here that many of the film's oppositions are first articulated. He tells her that she will be happy here, this is her home now. She must, in short, give up whatever individuality she retains to live by the group's rules. We sympathize with her plight, but her expedient view of the wedding, and the priest's kindly and warm manner, contrasting with her rather uncivil responses, make us feel that she is not being fair, that she has not given the island and its inhabitants a chance. And thus is initiated one of the most


complex and important dynamics in the whole film. What makes Stromboli unique is precisely this refusal to completely favor either Karin or Antonio in their struggle, but rather to continue to insist, contrary to Celestino's view in La macchina ammazzacattivi and most conventional cinema practice, on the complexity, the mass of grays, that mark all human relationships, and that must also mark our moral judgments of others, including characters in a film. This refusal to take sides is the source of Rossellini's famous "distance" in the Bergman-era films, but it must be remembered that the distancing results primarily from the deliberate alternating of audience emotional response, rather than any supposed "coldness" on the director's part. This emotional alternation will be a major feature in the other Bergman films as well, and it is this that gives them their power. In fact, one of the major weaknesses of Fear , their last collaboration, is the breakdown of this dynamic, for in that film, despite Rossellini's apparent intentions, almost all the audience's sympathy is vested in the female character.

Karin asks Antonio why he kissed the priest's hand, and his response seems utterly foreign to this deracinated woman, this prime specimen of the spiritual decay of the postwar European world: "It's the custom," he says simply. They come to the broken-down shack in which he means to establish their family and he tells her grandly, "This is our home." Plunging forward, as always, he manifests his comfortableness and full insertion in this environment (cheerfully breaking down the door on the way), and in the process allows the camera to isolate her and reveal her increasing anxiety. Inside the crumbling house, Karin is further isolated against its grays and blacks, her apprehension in counterpoint to Antonio's obvious happiness. The scene then dissolves to a shot of him walking behind her toward the sea, the site of her outer limitation (and also the obvious place of escape that is denied her), and the impression we have of him is as a hulking ape. He speaks hopefully of the land on the island on which crops can be grown, and when he cannot remember the English word, he picks up a handful to show her. (Throughout the scene, his feet are symbolically bare, in contact with the land, while hers remain shod.) Just as he embraces her and says, "I'm so happy," the music builds to a climax and she violently pushes him away. She screams that she wants to go far away from the island, and Antonio reverts to the only set of values that he knows. "This is my home and you are my wife," he says firmly. "You stay here because I want to." For him, of course, words like wife and home have fixed, uncomplicated meanings.

Our own emotional position at this point is unclear. On the one hand, Antonio is clearly falling back on a model of male supremacy that we find unpalatable (and probably would have in 1949 as well). But we also appreciate his genuine love for Karin and for the earth, natural things, and his homeland. She, on the other hand, though clearly put upon, is absolutely uncompromising in her haughty demands. Rossellini will hold us in this complex emotional limbo throughout the film.

His purposeful ambivalence toward these characters was apparently there from the beginning. Regarding Antonio, he told Bergman in the long letter in which he initially outlined the story of the film:


I am quite sure you will find many parts of the story quite rugged, and that your personality will be hurt and offended by some reactions of the personage. You mustn't think that I approve of the behavior of HIM. I deplore the wild and brutal jealousy of the islander, I consider it a remainder of an elementary and old-fashioned mentality. I describe it because it is part of the ambience, like the prickly pears, the pines and the goats (p. 196).

So far so good. But then Rossellini betrays an admiration at another level for Antonio, and its Wuthering Heights brand of romanticism does not obscure a strong whiff of sadism: "But I can't deny in the deepness of my soul there is a secret envy for those who can love so passionately, so wildly, as to forget any tenderness, any pity for their beloved ones. They are guided only by a deep desire of possession of the body and soul of the woman they love. Civilization has smoothed the strength of feelings" (p. 196).

A split second after Antonio's assertion of the male prerogative, we understand the wide, unbridgeable emotional gap that separates them. The camera, echoing their feelings, cuts quickly to an extreme long shot that pins them in their forlorn isolation against the harshness of rock and sea. Karin walks away, leaving Antonio standing there. The camera begins suddenly to move in the opposite direction, panning up the hill past the pitiful town to the top of the volcano, that theophallic symbol of the ordering power of authority. This shot is followed by a cut to the bubbling crater, an obvious analogue to their own upset feelings, and then to their bedroom, where they sleep in different beds. In a short and wordless scene of great subtlety, we sense that Karin, who lies awake, is wrestling with ambivalent feelings. But she does not go to Antonio.

Our emotional division regarding the characters continues through the following scenes. Karin seems selfish and unfeeling when she tells Antonio that he is not good enough for her, that he will need much more money to keep a woman like her. In insisting that she is not an animal, she implies that he is, and an important motif is begun. Another scene casts Karin's fragile flesh against the forbidding backdrop of craggy rocks, and when she cries out to the priest that "this island drives me mad," and that she desperately wants to leave "the black rocks, the desolation, the terror," the emotional balance shifts once again in her favor. The priest, like Antonio, is hardly equipped to deal with a sophisticated women like Karin, and, falling back on his training, counsels patience while they save enough money to leave. But in the meantime, he tells her, she should make a "good home for her husband." And, in some easily missed lines, a new motif is articulated that is meant to prepare the way for, and make more believable, Karin's recognition of God at the end of the film. The priest says, "God will be merciful." She replies at the very last moment of the scene, "With me, God has never been merciful."

The next scene is principally documentary in tone, as we learn how the men make their livelihood fishing. Antonio is successful and returns with a pocketful of money and, developing the animal motif, a large fish for dinner. On one level, which will be elaborated later, the fish reminds us of Karin's status as victim. At another level it seems to be an alienating presence in the middle of the table, a challenge, and as such it signals the intrusion of nature, of the basic facts of life and death—Antonio's realm—into Karin's attempts to order her existence. It is


this very dichotomy that will be so brilliantly worked out in Voyage to Italy . Here, an extraordinarily long take, like the earlier one of her crying, focuses almost clinically on Karin's reactions to the fish's presence.

Momentarily reconciled to her situation, she decides to decorate the house. In the process, however, she inadvertently activates the second phase of her difficulties, for the local women strongly disapprove. (In the Italian version, which includes more details of this scene, she paints a Matisse-like fresco on the wall, has a man cut off the legs of the chairs to make them low, and brings in a cactus.) Worst of all, she removes Antonio's pictures of his family and his favorite saints. His aunt tells her she is not "modest." This clash with local customs continues when she goes to the home of a "bad woman" (who happens to own a sewing machine) to have a skirt altered. She and the woman joke harmlessly with some of the local rowdies who have gathered below the window, and Antonio, returning from his day's work, happily joins the fun. When he discovers to his embarrassment who is behind the curtain, he yanks Karin out of the house and in the process has to undergo a painful-to-watch male showdown ritual in order to pass. Later in the film, Karin, in a provocative outfit, is sunning herself in a scene that recalls the sunbathing American beauty of La macchina ammazzacattivi . She plays innocently with the children among the rocks, but we are also conscious that she is showing quite a bit of leg. The lighthouse guard, who we first glimpsed on the boat crossing to the island, and who Karin had discovered in the "bad woman's" house recovering from malaria, rows up at this point and shows her how to catch an octopus using a barrel. She falls in the water, he helps her up—her clothes clinging to her body—and they exchange a subtle, but meaningful, look. Then a sudden, chilling cut reveals a long line of black-clad women watching the whole performance with great relish from above. (In the English version, the powerful reticence of this scene is vitiated by the reductive voice-over that tells us how tongues will wag over this "simple, thoughtless act.") What follows is a brilliant sequence of Antonio on his way home: bawdy songs and imprecations calling him cornuto (cuckold) echo from quickly-closed windows along his way. When he finally reaches home, he fulfills the promise of violence we have expected from him all along and, without a single word, beats Karin savagely. The next morning, all of the old family and religious pictures have been returned to their original locations.

The struggle between the man and the woman is intimately tied up with the larger question, What is the proper balance between the needs of the individual self, especially one who is "different," and the needs of the group, as embodied in their life-regulating social customs? Part of the excellence of the film is its refusal to come down on one side or the other of this difficult question, like its refusal to make us identify exclusively with either Karin or Antonio. As Robin Wood has pointed out, in spite of the fact that almost everything we see is from Karin's point of view, "our sense of the alien-ness of the primitive community seen through Karin's eyes is everywhere counterpointed by our sense of the integrity of Stromboli's culture and its functional involvement with nature, against Karin's sophisticated needs and moral confusion."[6] Some critics have, for their own reasons, not wanted to credit this rich ambivalence, but have preferred to attack Rossellini for portraying Karin as unambiguously at fault. The


editors of the British Film Institute dossier on Rossellini, for example, insist that "the logic of the film itself leaves little doubt that Karin is the 'trouble,' not the priest-ridden village where wife-beating appears to be part of the 'simple' life close to the 'authentic' values of human existence."[7] Borde and Bouissy, earlier anti-Rossellini polemicists, lump together all the Bergman-era films and egregiously maintain that they are all about "the redemption of the unworthy woman," all concerned with effacing "the sin of having a wet and hairy sexual organ." They move quickly to a global indictment:

In summary, Rossellini specializes in an antiwoman cinema, or more exactly, the film of the familial settling of accounts. It's the old reactionary theme: ever since Eve listened to the serpent, she's been an idiot or a whore. The married man has a double function as redeemer. In accomplishing his conjugal duty, he transforms her into a mother. In torturing her for a good cause, he transforms her into a moral being.[8]

Sex is complexly present in Stromboli , but it is rarely expressed in any of the conventional ways. Indeed, Karin is a sexual creature who openly uses her sexuality to gain advantage in an unequal struggle. Yet Rossellini refuses to essentialize—at least in this instance, on the subject of woman—taking instead an individual woman's problems seriously and making them the focus of his cinematic effort. His essentializing move is rather to make her stand for suffering humanity.

The first important "sexual" scene is Karin's private meeting with the priest, at his home, which occurs the day after Antonio has discovered her in the "bad woman's" house. She goes to the priest in desperation, searching for someone who will understand her. She tells him that she is unhappy and thinks she's going mad, but the priest says that Antonio is unhappy too. (Her inner turmoil is visually signaled by the fact that, under her black sweater, she is wearing a dress with a bizarre, jagged-edge pattern.) She begs the priest for money that has been entrusted to him by emigrants for upkeep of the cemetery, making a convincing case in favor of supporting life rather than death—but we quickly realize that she is only thinking about herself and does not care in the slightest about the island's traditions. During her confession, she moves closer and closer to the priest, consciously or unconsciously, and tells him, "You are the only man here who can understand me." The point, of course, is that he is not a "man," but a priest, with a clearly circumscribed spiritual role to play, and it is this that she does not understand. As Karin gets closer, his discomfort increases. He denies that he is the only one who can comfort her. She moves even closer, and when his housekeeper enters with a liqueur, they guiltily jump apart. Throughout this part of their encounter, the shots are very tight (mostly over-the-shoulder), the kind of shots often associated with love scenes. After twice resisting Karin's continuing advances, the priest finally tells her that he can talk to her only in confession, and that she must leave. We cut to a one-shot as her pleading face is suddenly flushed with hatred. She screams that he is "just like all the rest."

This must have been a rather raw scene in 1949, but there is more than just a sexual drama going on here. One of the main problems causing most spectators to see the religiousness of the film's ending as unprepared for and un-


Victims: Karin (Ingrid Bergman) tries to protect a rabbit from
her husband (Mario Vitale) in  Stromboli  (1949).

motivated is that it is easy to take the priest in this scene, as Karin does, as just another person she is talking to about her problems, rather than as the representative of God that he and his villagers take him to be. In the film's terms, in other words, he is a spiritual figure who is trying to lead her to a more unselfish life, one that has a place for God. Thus, during their encounter she overtly puts matters in moral terms when she tells him, "I've sinned, I've been lost. I've chased illusions, adventures, as though an evil force were behind me." Confessing that she was a collaborator during the war, dating Nazi officers, she says, "I realize now how wrong I've been. I want to make something of my life. But this is too much—I can't go from one extreme to another." Finally, when the priest rejects her entreaties, she shouts, "Your God won't help!" The very power of this scene's sexuality, in other words, can cause the spectator to miss the spiritual drama unfolding at the same time.

Another important moment follows, a moment extending the animal-sexual motif that will reach its peak in the famous tuna-fishing sequence. Karin has come off badly in the scene with the priest, in spite of our initial sympathy with her plight, but again Rossellini turns the emotional tables. She finds Antonio in front of their home on her return from the priest, and he shows her an animal she has never seen before. She asks what kind of an animal it is, and is told that it is a ferret for hunting and killing rabbits. He proceeds to give her a gruesome display of how quickly and violently the ferret is able to dispatch the rabbit he


releases. All of Karin's frustration built up during the scene with the priest now pours out as she pounds Antonio wildly and calls him a "stupid, savage beast," but he only laughs at her inability to do any physical or psychological damage to him. The real source of her frustration, however, is that she sees herself as an animal, the defenseless rabbit being attacked. In the Italian version, Rossellini makes the point even more strongly as we cut back to the animals' death struggle; in a series of horrifying shots, including some close-ups, the ferret destroys the still wildly kicking rabbit and drags it away.

What follows is the interlude with the lighthouse keeper, mentioned earlier, the gossip of cuckoldry, and Antonio's savage beating of Karen to reclaim her as his property. He takes her on a "public relations" tour of the village—to the cemetery, to the church—where, with all the eyes of the villagers on them, he publicly reasserts his mastery over her. Her defeated, distracted presence in the church, far from any real religious devotion, suggests again, as we saw in several earlier films, the basic inability of organized religion to fulfill spiritual needs.

In spite of—or because of—her humiliation, this brutal treatment seems to have the desired effect, and a rapprochement of sorts begins to develop, leading to another emotional climax in the magnificent tuna-fishing sequence that was incorrectly identified by Claude Mauriac in his influential L'Amour du cinéma (to Rossellini's anger) as having been filmed by another director. In the very beginning of the sequence, Karin inappropriately has herself rowed out to the scene of the tuna fishing, again asserting her difference, for no village woman would ever think of intruding onto this male territory. With some of the very few pleasant words she ever says to Antonio in the entire course of the film, she tells him, "I want to be with you. I'll go if you want; I don't want to embarrass you in front of the other men." The coarse and simple Antonio, in love but clearly in over his head with this sophisticated woman, affectionately tells her it is all right for her to stay: (The warmth of this moment, of course, is greatly vitiated by the knowledge that it presumably results from her beating.)

The pace quickens as the nets are brought in closer and closer, and the sea begins to churn as the still-unseen fish try desperately to escape. The voice-over of the English version casts the scene in an overtly documentary mode, linking the annual reappearance of the tuna in the same place with the workings of a "higher power." The entire sequence is a brilliant textbook illustration, reminiscent of the Po episode of Paisan , of how to build emotion through rhythm, expectation, and suspended fulfillment. But the abstract beauty quickly turns into the more concrete reality of killing as the huge fish are speared one after the other and heaved inside the boat. As the violence mounts, the intercuts of Karen's shocked reaction come more quickly, resulting in an even more profound version of the revulsion she experienced in the scene with the ferret and rabbit. Again, however, she is not horrified just by the violence, but also because she sees an analogue of her own situation in that of the tuna. Were she merely reacting to the violence, we might be justified in considering her hopelessly alienated from the "true," "natural," life of the village. Instead, we understand that, like the tuna, she is a helpless victim whose selfhood is being extinguished by forces beyond her control. There is also an obvious sexual subtext operating in this sequence, and, as with the ferret scene, one that is clearly sadistic. Jean-


Claude Bonnet has suggestively described one of these elements: "The stranger who faints at the sight of enormous harpooned and bloody fish is sprinkled by the rough slap of a tuna's tail. 'It was horrible,' she cries in the next scene during the eruption, when we find out that she is pregnant."[9] The question that remains open, as usual, is where is Rossellini in all of this? Is he sympathizing with woman as social and sexual victim, or heaping more pain on her, trying to "redeem" her?

After the violence—sexual and otherwise—of the "day of the slaughter of the tuna fish," as the voice-over identifies it, we move to the obviously phallic expression of the volcano in its fullest moment of violence. From a shot of the volcano, we cut to a shot of Karin trying to light a fire in her oven, and almost as though she has begun some natural chain of events with her innocent act, the volcano begins to grumble in its loud bass voice. Again, the rhythm of the editing is perfect, and the beautifully composed shots move quickly before our eyes. United in the face of the overwhelming danger of an infinitely more powerful and more basic nature, Karin and the villagers momentarily put aside their superficial struggle as everyone moves out to sea on the fishing boats in order to escape the volcano's fury. The people in the water now become a kind of floating village, and we realize again that the village is indeed its people, not the houses or the earth on which they stand. They have taken their spiritual values with them, and gain solace in the monotonous repetition of the Catholic litany of the saints, offered as an incantation to propitiate the pagan god of the volcano. We learn that Karin is pregnant, and in the peace of the scene we think that a longer-range truce might be possible through the intermediary of the child, who will be both hers and the village's, in a way, a living merger of the self and the group. Significantly, she is no longer seen in isolated one-shots, but is now part of the larger whole. Her "different" culture, however, keeps her from joining in the recitation of the litany.

And, indeed, such a truce is not to be. The conditions of her existence on the island are simply not bearable; whether this is her fault or not is finally beside the point. Rossellini means to describe an existential condition rather than assign blame: this is simply the way things are, and now that a child is coming, her situation becomes all the more urgent. When she decides to leave the island, and will not be turned from her resolve, Antonio literalizes the film's continuing animal imagery by boarding up the doors and windows of the house, turning her into a caged beast. Once again, she must use her "feminine wiles" to escape her husband's ignorant brutality, and, like so many women before her, she is forced to turn to another man for her liberation, considering the physical threat against her. She plays up to the lighthouse keeper, luring him into a cave on the beach; this is obviously her place, the place of Circe and Calypso, of the vagina and the womb (It's peaceful here," she says), as opposed to the masculine power and patriarchal authority that reign everywhere else on the island and are embodied in the volcano. She tells him in blatantly manipulative tones, which make it difficult for us to side with her in spite of the pain she has suffered, that her husband "beat her like a beast." We also realize, however, that she must be manipulative, as this is the only weapon that remains to her. Refusing to wait a minute longer, she decides to escape by ascending the


forbidding volcano, a gesture laden with symbolic import. For Rossellini, as we have seen, the volcano represents the awesome power of nature that must somehow be engaged and submitted to in order to behold the power, majesty, and beauty of God. It is equally possible, of course, to see the volcano as the very embodiment of the patriarchal order of things, which Karen challenges, an order that must break the spirit of the independent, threatening female to its will.

As Karin ascends the volcano, she symbolically loses, one by one, all of her ephemeral appurtenances—her suitcase, her purse, and the money she has taken from Antonio to finance her escape. Powerful in the world of men, this money is worthless in the more basic world of nature. Smoke from the volcano billows around her, suggesting the fires of hell or purgatory, intimating that, from the director's perspective, she must be shriven of her pride to be able to come through, both physically and morally, to the other side. For Rossellini, what is important is the decisive, traumatic moment—the moment when the forces of the universe and the inner soul come into delicate balance and, as in a Words-worthian vision, one is allowed a glimpse into the spiritual heart of things. At one point Karin is uncertainly poised halfway between the world of men and the world of God (Rossellini clearly distinguishes them) and significantly looks up to the crater and then back to the village. Bathed in a magnificent light that makes her radiant against the blackness of the lava, she decides to continue upward, repeating Nanni's gesture in The Miracle , moving ever closer to the rarified atmosphere of the spiritual, away from the earthly. Too many critics have seen her choice as merely one of going on with her individual life or resigning herself to the constricted life of the village, but clearly this is only its secondary manifestation. Rather, the film poses her choice as between continuing to be a selfish individualist or realizing the existence of something higher that transcends and enfolds within it mere social questions of the individual versus the group.

The religious resonance of the ending also becomes clear, for the horrible ascent up the fearful volcano is Karin's dark night of the soul. As the dangerous smoke and fumes surround and choke her, she is offered a literal vision of hell. Throughout this sequence, in close-up after close-up, her wedding ring is greatly in evidence, a constant reminder of the social ties that are calling her back to the village; these ties also pale into insignificance in the face of the primordial power of the volcano. Sobbing wildly, she cries out, "I'll finish it, but I haven't the courage; I'm afraid!" She also cries out the name of God twice, but as an expletive, a neutral verbalization of her frustration and exhaustion (again, like Nanni's "Dio, Dio" at the end of The Miracle ). The image then fades to a more peaceful moment sometime later. The stars are out. The film cuts again a few seconds later to morning and, as Karin wakes up, she blocks the sun with her hand. Again she says, "Oh God!" twice, but now the expletive has been transformed into an act of homage to the magnificent stillness all around her. She touches her abdomen, recalling her child for us, and, looking around, cries, "What mystery! What beauty!" in a way that, to this viewer at least, seems utterly convincing. Through her ghastly trial she now seems to have arrived at a better understanding of her place in the world. Then the film cuts


to a shot of birds wheeling in the sky (presumably symbolic of Karin's spiritual rebirth), a shot that has been prepared for with similar shots of birds flying around in the peace following the volcano's eruption.

It is at this point that the English and Italian versions of the film distinctly divide, and if its finale is to be condemned, it should be Rossellini's rather than RKO's. For some, of course, the very religiosity of the ending, in either version, is cause enough to dismiss the entire film. Those who have been able to accept its spiritual dimension have for the most part, however, objected to Karin's apparent decision to return to the village at the very last moment, totally subjugating her own sense of self to the will of others. In the English version, her return is clear-cut and unambiguous, even praised; in the Italian version, however, the ending is more characteristically ambivalent, and Rossellini refuses to provide a satisfying closure.

In the RKO version, the obtrusive voice-over comes straight out and tells us exactly what to think: "Out of her terror and her suffering, Karin had found a great need for God. And she knew now that only in her return to the village could she hope for peace."[10] While the "uplifting" musical theme soars, the camera cuts between her smiling, beatific face and the village, ending on a slight zoom on the village, within the context of the extreme long shot. Even apart from the obvious sexist wish fulfillment of this ending, it is clearly the forced, explicit naming of the religious theme in this way that has made the final scene so unpalatable to American viewers.

In Rossellini's version, the voice-over is, as throughout the film, completely absent. After Karen cries, "What mystery! What beauty!" the film cuts to a long shot of the mountain. The camera then pans up the mountain, emphasizing its active participation in Karen's religious conversion, and then pans back down to find her. In a full shot, she stands on a small hillock, looking down at the village. The film cuts to the village in long shot and we hear her say offscreen, "No, I can't go back!" Cut back to her. She sits down. Cut to a tight head-and-shoulders shot. "They are horrible. It was all horrible," she says. Cut back to an extreme long shot of the village, pasted on the very edge of the vast sea, another brute power of nature. "They don't know what they're doing," she says offscreen, in one of the Christological references Rossellini is fond of, which would link Karin even more closely to that earlier female Christ-victim figure, Nanni. The difference between the two women becomes immensely clear in the next line, however, for Karin is an intelligent being in full command of her rational faculties: "I'm even worse," she says. Cut to an extreme close-up on her face, as she looks away, disgusted both by the village and by herself. She begins crying, quickly turns her head back, and says, "I'll save him." Cut to a full shot in which she holds her abdomen and says, "My innocent child!" Cut to a close-up as she shouts, "God, my God! Help me! Give me the strength, the understanding, and the courage!" She buries her head, sobbing, then cries more softly, "God, God." Cut to birds flying overhead as the camera pans across the sky. Offscreen, we hear her saying, "My God! Oh merciful God!" (or perhaps "Almighty God!") as the birds continue to fly past. In this version, the film ends with a shot of the billowing smoke of the volcano.

Clearly, what is important for Rossellini is the individual's growth from


selfish ego toward a transcendent spirituality. It is much less important here than in the English version whether or not Karin returns to the village. It is equally possible, of course, to read this ending as the submission of the independent female to the patriarchal authority; but the patriarch here is God, not her husband Antonio or his male-dominated society. In the mid-sixties, Adriano Aprà and Maurizio Ponzi asked Rossellini in an interview if Karin is leaving or returning to the village at the end. He replied:

I don't know. That would be the beginning of another film. The only hope for Karin is to have a human attitude toward something, at least once. The greatest monster has some humanity in him. . . . There is a turning point in every human experience in life—which isn't the end of the experience or of the man, but a turning point. My finales are turning points. Then it begins again—but as for what it is that begins, I don't know. I'll tell that another time, if it has to be told. If things haven't happened there's no point in going on and getting involved in another story.[11]

In a 1959 interview he put it even more directly: "A woman has undergone the trials of the war; she comes out of it bruised and hardened, no longer knowing what a human feeling it. The important thing was to find out if this woman could still cry and the film stops there, when the first tears begin to flow."[12]

Critical orthodoxy on the ending of Stromboli , even in its Italian version, is negative. Most have felt that the ending is simply too abrupt and unprepared for; even the Catholic phenomenologist Henri Agel is lukewarm about it. Nevertheless, I think an argument can be made that various elements of the film (for example, the early scenes with the priest, the fact that the full title of the Italian version is Stromboli, Land of God , and so on), which are perhaps more subtle than the harsh male-female, individual-group clash that occupies the surface, contribute to the rightness, in its own terms, of the film's spiritual resolution. Rossellini has pointed out with some justice that anyone properly attentive to the epigraph from Isaiah in the opening credits would be able to understand how appropriate the ending really is: "I have hearkened to those who have asked nothing of me. I have let myself be found by those who were not looking for me" (Isa. 65:1). Robin Wood is right, I think, to find Karin's conversion "meticulously prepared for," though never specific. Though Wood's essentialist language is somewhat troublesome, he is on the right track when he says, "More than with any other director the essential meaning has to be read behind and between the images, in the implications of the film's movement which rise to the surface only in rare privileged moments whose significance is never overtly explained and which draw their intensity as much from the accumulations of context as from anything present in the image."[13]

Beyond its ending, an even grander chorus of voices has condemned this entire film and, indeed, the entire series of Bergman-Rossellini collaborations. Some, like Mida, have found fault with Bergman, who forced Rossellini to betray his "real interest" in coralità , making him altogether too "intellectual." Others—and this is still the dominant opinion in Hollywood—refuse to concede that Rossellini was up to something altogether different (whether it was successful or not is another question) and blame him for "ruining" Bergman's


career. However, another, more recent view—one that I share—considers these films with Bergman as among Rossellini's greatest, and, in spite of their faults, among the most significant films made since World War II. Andrew Sarris, for example, has said that "Rossellini's sublime films with Ingrid Bergman were years ahead of their time, and are not fully appreciated even today in America."[14] Nor, he might have added, anywhere else. Bruno Torri, in his Cinema italiano: Dalla realtà alle metafore , has perhaps come the closest to accounting for the brilliance of these films, and his remarks provide an important clue to understanding why the young style-conscious critics of Cahiers du cinéma would become their first champions:

They undoubtedly represent the most advanced that Italian cinema was able to produce in those years beyond the paths already travelled. . . . His is a cinema of questions, not answers; and therefore, also under this profile, the heuristic function ("socratic," as has been justly noted) which his films develop brings with it a final step toward the full autonomy of film style, a decisive freeing from the "banal" (and from cultural parasitism) and finally, what counts the most, a major attempt to make the spectator more responsible, since he is now called on not so much to consent or dissent on more or less univocal messages, to pronounce on attitudes and propositions ideologically already known, as to take up on his own behalf the thread of a discourse specifically cinematographic in a concrete and open time, just as any reality is concrete and open.[15]

For better or worse, then, Stromboli and the other Bergman-era films are "pure" Rossellini. The director himself once insisted that Stromboli was important to him, and whoever did not like it had no reason to like any of his other films either.[16]


Francesco, Giullare di Dio

At the very height of the scandal, while Bergman and Rossellini were being accused of the most heinous crimes against morality and human decency, Rossellini was busy making the most overtly religious film of his life. Later films like Augustine of Hippo, Acts of the Apostles , and The Messiah are, as we shall see, ultimately more concerned with history than theology or the spiritual life. Francesco, giullare di Dio (Francis, God's Jester) to give it its full title, is delicately poised between the two. Thus, it clearly fits into the religious search and questioning of "crisis-era" films like The Miracle, Stromboli , and Europa '51 , its modern-day "sequel," which immediately followed. At the same time, however, Francesco signals the beginning of Rossellini's interest in the depiction of history per se. (It is also possible, of course, to see Open City, Paisan , and Germany, Year Zero as "historical films" that depict the recent past.)

This new interest in history is obvious throughout the film, but especially in the beginning of the American version (which, unlike Stromboli , Rossellini seems to have been responsible for).[1] There, we are historically situated through paintings and frescoes to give us the proper context to understand what we are about to see. In this, it is similar to the American version of the opening of Stromboli and, of course, the map and voice-over that move us through Paisan .[2] In other words, a strong didactic interest reigns in this film, as in most of Rossellini's films; this impulse is more overt in the later television work, but it is present from the first. Here the frescoes function to create an otherness in time, a past place that the film will consciously seek to represent, to signify, without attempting to recreate the historical period illusionistically. The difference may seem slight, but is in fact crucial and is the strategy that makes many of the


later historical films more epistemologically sophisticated than they seem at first glance. The frescoes, which Rossellini's camera pans while the voice-over explains the historical events they represent, complexly negotiate the distance between the filmic representation of the past and the past itself. They represent the past for us, yet they, in fact, also are the past because they were made then, but continue to exist in our day.

This strategy is characteristic of the whole film, and not just the opening of the American version, for Rossellini has not chosen to represent the historical Saint Francis, but quite clearly, as the opening credits tell us, to base the film on the prior representation of Francis and his followers in the Fioretti (Little Flowers) , first written right after Francis' death. This can, of course, be regarded as an attempt to get closer to the "truth" or "essence" of Saint Francis; but it also is a subtle admission that we cannot really get back to the past, as Ding an sich , but only represent it in ways that will always be more or less "distorted" by previous interpretations of it. As a version of the Fioretti , a genuine piece of writing from the past that continues to exist into the present, the film is both more authentic and yet further removed from real historical events themselves. In the Italian version, this process of mediation is even more deliberately foregrounded, as intertitles taken directly from chapter headings of the Fioretti are flashed on the screen before each new vignette. As we shall see, this general strategy of temporal doubling continues through the later historical films, when Rossellini insists on words and more words drawn from actual historical documents. In a sense, it is really the words, which exist in two times, that make these films "historical."

Rossellini has recounted in several interviews how Francesco came to be made. During the filming of Paisan , the director found himself with three German prisoners who were cooperating with the filming, if rather uneasily, and who finally took refuge in a monastery, where they knew they would be safe. When Rossellini and Fellini went to fetch them, they discovered the lovely shelter that became the setting for the monastery sequence of Paisan . From that day on, both men were intrigued with the idea of using these monks to make a film on Saint Francis himself, a film that would go back to the roots of the innocent naïveté and generosity (even if mistaken) that marks the monastery episode of the earlier film.[3] According to Brunello Rondi, who was associated with the film in its early stages, shooting began with a twenty-eight-page treatment (including only seventy-one lines of dialogue!) that had been worked up by Rossellini and Fellini alone. Fellini told his biographer Solmi that he had personally suggested the humorous scene with the tyrant Nicolaio; nevertheless, the film has always been regarded by those involved as Rossellini's creation. This fact must be insisted upon because of the common rhetorical tactic, used by an older generation of Communist critics to discredit Rossellini's films during this period, of suggesting that the film's "mysticism" and religiosity were the fault of the even more intensely disapproved-of Fellini, who had turned his back on anything even remotely resembling social realism. The screenplay, such as it was, and the rest of the dialogue were written later, during the actual shooting, as was Rossellini's wont, by the director, Rondi, and Father Alberto Maisano, who was in charge of the novices. Rondi has attested that no one else


was involved (in spite of the fact that the credits say that two priests, Felix Morlion and Antonio Lisandrini, also participated in the screenplay), and that at no time was there any church interference with Rossellini and Fellini's original idea. This testimony is important because some have accused Rossellini of making Catholic propaganda in this film; Rondi contends that, on the contrary, ecclesiastical authorities were displeased with the film because of its too-human portrayal of the saint.[4]

As the credits proudly state (hearkening back at least eight years to La nave bianca ), "The actors were taken from real-life," with the exception of Aldo Fabrizi (as in Open City ), in the role of the tyrant Nicolaio. Rossellini preferred working with nonprofessionals, but he never insisted that a real fisherman had to play a fisherman, a real farmer a farmer. Here, however, the coincidence is exact, and the friars are all played by real Franciscans.

When the film appeared, critical reaction was mixed, and it failed miserably at the box office. Interestingly enough, many neorealist critics who had sadly shaken their heads during the period of Rossellini's "crisis" warmly welcomed the film as a return to his "true" theme and mode, coralità , and in fact, an overcoming of the director's proclivity toward mysticism. Marxist critics, on the other hand, with Pio Baldelli leading the charge, attacked it as being little more than propaganda for the Church and, since 1950 was a papal holy year, Rossellini's attempt to get back in the Vatican's good graces.

The extensive polemic surrounding this film has revolved chiefly around the question of its historical veracity to the times, the Franciscans, and the saint himself. The debate is marked, on both sides, by appallingly simplistic notions concerning what it would mean to be historically true to a past epoch, and how one would go about finding a neutral ground from which one could portray the past "in its own terms," or even better, "objectively." Thus, the argument centers around claims of Rossellini's success or failure in this area, rather than the very possibility of presenting history objectively. It seems clearer today that the film offers itself, through the intermediary of the Fioretti , rather as a reading of history, of history as a text that cannot be grasped in a direct and unmediated form. At this point, at least, Rossellini seems to realize that all interpretations must be subjectively based, like all depictions of "reality," whether they are of an earlier era, or, as we shall see in India , of an alien culture.

But Rossellini would have refused to make the next step, toward either the utter unknowability of history or a radical relativism. In the later historical films, in fact, where more is at stake, he even wants to elide the subjective element altogether in favor of an "unbiased" presentation of facts. Rossellini also subscribes to an idea of history composed in grand outlines of major turning points, shifts in consciousness—a view of history that is itself, of course, only another interpretation. Thus, in Francesco he is not trying to portray merely a specific saint and his way of being in the world—though he is doing that as well—but also, as in his later historical films, what he takes to be a turning point in world history. Similarly, the title's emphasis on the person of Saint Francis is itself belied, for from the very beginning of the film—when for the longest time Rossellini refuses to single out Francis—great pains are taken to decenter the saint, to see him as a member of a group and as part of an era. (Some critics


have complained that Brother Ginepro, the foolish monk around whom many of the unconnected episodes revolve, is accorded too much importance in the film, at the expense of Francis, but it is clear that this is a crucial and conscious tactic.) Rossellini's later historical films will repeat this contradictory double stress on the individual and his time: films like Augustine of Hippo, Pascal, Socrates , and so on all point, even in their titles, to a "great man" theory of history, but since the individual figures serve in the films chiefly as organizing devices for the presentation of the characteristics of an age, the theory is at the same time undone.

Of earlier critics, Mida seems closest to a proper sense of Rossellini's historical relativism. For him, the interpretation of Francis is rather "loose" and poetic, but he prefers this to a cold recital of facts: Rossellini "is faithful to history, but it is a faithfulness that must be understood through the fantasy of an artist, who takes everything from the legend which inspires and moves him."[5] Later critics like Jose Guarner have rightly insisted that the historical recreation has been whittled down to a recreation of ideas; and Giorgio Tinazzi has pointed out, the principal idea here is "Franciscanism as a way of existence."[6] In other words, Rossellini's interest in the depiction of history primarily for its informational value is not nearly as developed as it will be later in the films made for television. Here, he remains a captive of the religious impulse of films like The Miracle and Stromboli[7] (remember that Saint Francis was also mentioned in Rossellini's first letter to Bergman), and Francesco serves retrospectively as a grounding for the relentless spiritual striving of these earlier films.[8]

But if religious values are privileged over the "facts," Rossellini nevertheless had a didactic purpose in mind in making this film. As in the other films of this period, he is concerned with the despair and cynicism facing postwar Europe, and unashamedly offers Saint Francis and his philosophy as answers, as a way back to an essential wholeness. Just as the turn to God at the end of Stromboli may embarrass us nowadays with its overt religiosity, so too the "message" of Francesco is militantly old-fashioned, as Rossellini told students at the Centro sperimentale di cinematografia in the early sixties:

It was important for me then to affirm everything that stood against slyness and cunning. In other words, I believed then and still believe that simplicity is a very powerful weapon. . . . The innocent one will always defeat the evil one; I am absolutely convinced of this, and in our own era we have a vivid example in Ghandhism. . . . Then, if we want to go back to the historical moment, we must remember that these were cruel and violent centuries, and yet in those centuries of violence appeared Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Catherine of Siena.[9]

Marcel Oms may claim that one does not vanquish tyrants by nonviolence, as Brother Ginepro does in the Fioretti and the film, but Rossellini clearly feels otherwise. Revolutionary after his own fashion, the director believes, with Shelley, that the individual must first be changed before society can be changed. Naturally, this can seem to be the kind of phony "revolution" always fostered by the bourgeoisie, who speak of spiritual values rather than material ones be-


cause their material lives are relatively comfortable. In any case, it obviously took courage for Rossellini to offer such transparently "retrograde" values to a modern audience, and in many ways the radicalism of this film lies in its fearless exposure of the director's vulnerable idealism. As we shall see, this courage is even more evident in his next film, Europa '51 , which carries the same message as Francesco but removes it from the comfortable safety of the distant past to the startling present of its title.

In formal terms, Francesco is a film whose thoroughgoing unconventionality makes the polemics surrounding its historical veracity almost irrelevant. For one thing, there is really no plot in the film, and scarcely more characterization. It revels in the partial, the hint, the barely glimpsed, shunning the fully "narrativized" or the straightforwardly presented. Aside from Brother Ginepro's violent encounter with the tyrant Nicolaio and his men, we get little more than humorous misunderstandings about needing a pig's foot to make soup (Ginepro "convinces" a still-living pig to donate its foot), Saint Francis telling the birds to be quiet so that he can pray, and the loving, simple preparations for the visit of Saint Clair. Again, as we have seen in other Rossellini films, the sketch, the vignette, and the illuminating anecdote are favored over a doggedly linear exposition. The individual scenes from the Fioretti chosen for "dramatization" do not seem inevitable, nor do they really cohere (as some have complained), but, then again, they were never meant to. Rather, an atmosphere is created and a minimalist structural system of opposites elaborated in a denuded and thoroughly unrealistic setting. As part of this strategy, the process of symbolization is foregrounded throughout in the constant references to the purgative emblems of fire and rain. The monks' full-throated Gregorian chant, which links many of the vignettes, also contributes to the purposeful lack of realism, for it was obviously recorded by a large choir singing in a church. Similarly, gestures and other movements of bodies and heads are greatly slowed down, further stylizing the film in the direction of greater simplicity. What is at stake, once again, is an idea rather than an illusionistic reconstruction.

History, or better, historiography, on the other hand, is linear, fully elaborated, logical, supremely rational. There are beginnings and endings and—at least to judge by the work of most historians—clear-cut narratives, with the rising action, falling action, and climax all properly arranged, according to the neat codes of realism, no matter what violence may be done to the actual fabric of lived experience. In other words, in the depiction of the "divine madness" that afflicted Saint Francis and his followers, it was important to Rossellini in 1950 to avoid the rigors of a supposedly objective historiography because its logical linearity would itself have been inimical to the Franciscans' crazy world of faith. As Henri Agel has reminded us, these early Franciscans, thought eccentric, were simply disaffected with the power of rationality that we hold so dear. In this regard he compares Rossellini's film to Dreyer's Ordet: in both, "Faith blows up all the logical mechanisms."[10] Elsewhere, Agel says of Francesco that it demonstrates "a perfect disaffection of the soul vis-à-vis the mental processes of a civilized adult."[11] Thus, an "accurate" historical recreation will be one more logical mechanism that Rossellini must blow up if the film's form is to reflect its subject matter.


One very obvious casualty will thus be the rigorous logic of narrative itself. Strictly speaking, narrative is continually defeated in this film (at least in its largest sense, for "narrative" per se can never be finally defeated, since even a single shot can be "narrativized" at some minimal level), in favor of the incomplete, the aleatory, and the suggestive poetic anecdote that is, narratively, a dead end. Here the tableau, the anecdote, and the image exist more easily in a stylized world of symbolic values than would a strongly plotted film full of "realistic" action. Henri Agel describes this technique as Rossellini's "aesthetic of insignificance," an aesthetic we have seen as early as La nave bianca and L'uomo dalla croce —where it manifested itself as a documentation of reality for its own sake—as well as in the long takes of later films. In many ways this aesthetic of insignificance, of "banality," as Agel calls it elsewhere, is directly related to the famous long-take sequence invented by Cesare Zavattini for De Sica's Umberto D ., made two years later, in which we spend several minutes watching a maid clean up the kitchen in the early morning, while nothing "happens." Both point toward the indirect, meandering antinarrativity of Antonioni's films of the late fifties and early sixties. As Brunello Rondi has nicely put it: "The sequences of Francesco do not have an irresistible rhythmic movement which leads them toward certain conclusions sensed from the beginning. They seem rather to wander weightlessly, to appear on the surface in the purest gestures, making up an order which is abstract, but intensely revealing; they are, precisely, 'atonal.'"[12]

One of the most interesting things about the film is that it seems to occupy the same kind of ambivalent, complicated medieval space, simultaneously realistic and stylized, that is the hallmark of the Divine Comedy (which Ingmar Bergman was also to capture a few years after Francesco in The Seventh Seal ). Rossellini has, of course, paid lip service to the ordinary demands of historical verisimilitude—trying to get the costumes right, for example—but, even more important, the film is imbued with the rough graininess of neorealism that allows us to feel the monks' scratchy tunics and the drenching rain. Yet, at the same time, Francesco flaunts its visual stylization. This is especially true in Rossellini's use of the art of the period as a kind of model or template to teach us how to watch the film; he seems very consciously to have shot the film with the stylized, severe simplicity of medieval art. For example, in the longer European version of the initial sequence, Francis lies down in the mud so that the friars can walk on him: the arrangement of bodies and the overall composition of the frame are clearly taken from Giotto's depiction of Saint Francis' death in a famous fresco. Throughout, we see the monks in almost total isolation from any "real" world, functioning, like medieval art, symbolically, as an emblematic community of the possible. Giorgio Tinazzi has pointed out that even the shots are continually flattened to eliminate perspective, thus putting man and nature on the same level.[13] I would merely add that another, perhaps more important, effect of this flattening is to suggest the two-dimensionality of the highly symbolic space of medieval art before the conquest of Renaissance "realistic" perspective, which entails an entirely different worldview. As a matter of fact, Rossellini's entire technical, emotional, and thematic trajectory can be summed up, if reductively, in this movement from the medieval to the Renaissance, not


The flattened perspective of the medieval world: the monks of  Francesco,
giullare di Dio
 (1950) walk in the rain.

only in terms of their visual aspects, specifically their art, but in terms of their distinct ways of looking at the world. At this period of his life, he is concerned with the mystical, the personal, the religious, and the emotional—in short, the medieval. Later, beginning tentatively with India , Rossellini will move toward the factual, the rational, and the privileging of scientific knowledge, a movement that reaches its zenith, as we shall see, in the Renaissance figure Leon Battista Alberti of The Age of the Medici .

Linear, temporal narrativity and worldly logic, then, are being refused by means of an aesthetic of symbolic space, discontinuity, and fragmentation. Thus, when Pio Baldelli complains that "within each scene, the studied elaboration of individual details does not create a unified architecture, but rather multiple articulations of isolated parts,"[14] we may very well object that this is precisely what Rossellini was after. But, just as we saw in Paisan , what is discontinuous at one level in a Rossellini film usually becomes essentialized and thus made continuous on a higher plane of abstraction. In the earlier film, Rossellini's aesthetic of difference and fragmentation, in other words, was ultimately aimed at describing a unity or essence of "human nature." Here, in addition to the film's antinarrativity and overt stylization, Rossellini decenters Saint Francis as the main focus, as we saw, but only in order to recenter the film in "the spirit of Franciscanism" itself. The decision not to individualize the friars is also clearly part of this essentializing strategy. Hence, unlike in conventional


cinema, Rossellini does dally with the "inessential," but always does so to reach a grander essence at the end.

The essence of Franciscanism that Rossellini is striving for is elaborated structurally in visual and spatial terms. The pictorial flattening discussed above creates a kind of minimalist paysage moralisé out of the monks' simple community, a stylized, antirealistic locus of genuine Christian kindness and joy that operates principally in symbolic terms. Against this quiet, spatially uncomplicated place, Rossellini sets the tyrant Nicolaio's camp, one of the few times in the film that we venture beyond the enclosed, protected world of the religious community. Here in the camp is the discontinuous world: noisy, rude, violent, marked by continual frenzied movement to and fro, it stands in vivid contrast to the simplicity that has occupied the screen up to this point, and the spectator is visually and aurally overwhelmed. The frame is crammed with trees, tents, and rough, shouting warriors, all of this clashing violently with the open, loose framing of the bare territory of the brothers. When Ginepro is brought before Nicolaio, the structural contrast is continued in Ginepro's simple robe and the tyrant's enormous, comic suit of armor that can be put on or taken off only by an entire retinue of followers operating an elaborate pulley system. The values of simplicity and the "essential" are clearly favored over the complex and the superfluous.

Most important here is the choice of Aldo Fabrizi, the only professional actor

The discontinuous world versus pure spirit: the tyrant Nicolaio
(Aldo Fabrizi) bullies Brother Ginepro in  Francesco .


in the film, to play the part of Nicolaio. Most critics have seen his histrionic acting as the film's chief fault, but it may be one of its virtues. His acting—overacting, really—is precisely what is necessary to augment the structural opposition between the brothers' simplicity and Nicolaio's worldliness: in other words, the familiar opposition of nature and culture. His performance is purposely foregrounded, made self-reflexive, as is Magnani's in Una voce umana , and thus serves, itself, as part of the film's meaning. By this means, the structural opposition is carried to a kind of metalevel as well, beyond the level of the story to its mode of telling.

But the world's discontinuities are finally not to be as easily mastered as the tyrant Nicolaio, and the essence cannot forever be maintained. For one thing, an essence, paradoxically, as we saw in the chapter on Open City , can be represented only by means of the inessential, imperfect signifiers that present themselves to the senses. The final scene of the film, when the brothers must disperse to bring their (essential) message to all parts of the world, demonstrates the inevitable gap that all representation entails, even, or especially, the representation of that which is eternal. Francis has them spin around and around until they get dizzy and fall to the ground (a wonderfully apt metaphor for their way of being in the world and in this film); whichever way they fall is the direction in which they are to proceed to begin their preaching. Rossellini wisely decided to hold the camera immobile at this point, for the camera itself becomes the locus of their unity and the symbol of the wholeness of an unmeditated vision, and we are treated to an understated, but intensely emotional, shot of the brothers walking off in different directions. Most of the action in this shot occurs in the foreground, and the landscape is visually present throughout, beckoning the friars and thus challenging the unity that is, in fact, about to be broken up. The director could have ended the film with a moment of narrative, spatial, and emotional unity, of course; it is as though he and the logic of the film itself were driven to reveal the gap in representation. The film seems deliberately to skirt the edge of the abyss because it knows that everything can be made right again in some final moment of transcendence. But can it? One after another, the friars turn around for just one more look, as they get further and further away. Those at the far left and right disappear, then Francis and another friar walk toward and past the camera, out of the shot. Finally, only three small figures remain in sight, far away in the background. Dispersal and discontinuity seem to reign. At this point, however, Rossellini reveals his last, most powerful, stroke, a double gesture that attempts to master both the visual and aural track and unify them in a "transcendent" moment.

For, as the monks separate visually, their singing gradually grows louder, holding them together in spite of everything. The singing, of course, is a repetition of the Word and the continuity of the Franciscan message, and the fact that what they are singing is the Te Deum, points nicely toward the source of any possible transcendence. Thus, the aural track is enlisted against the dispersion of the visuals. Even the discontinuity implied in the visuals is mastered by a new unity, however, as Rossellini tilts up at the last moment to a shot of the moving clouds in the sky, a shot that he will repeat at the end of The


Messiah a quarter of a century later, toward a vision of final, divine transcendence that unifies and reconciles all earthly difference.

But the difference inherent in the sign itself, the interval that always exists between the signifier and the signified, will forever have the last word. For one thing, we can project some future point (soon) when the singing must stop and the aural unity will disintegrate. More important, though, the very image that Rossellini offers us of a fixed, unified point of "grounding"—heaven above—is in fact not a single place at all (though this is the signified we are meant to understand here). Instead, it can only be seen (otherwise the screen would be utterly blank and thus signify, literally, nothing) because of the many discrete, discontinuous clouds that paradoxically constitute it and body it forth, without which it would, literally, not exist.[15]

Rossellini's desire for an essence, in other words, will always be defeated in advance by his need to represent that essence. This is not to say that there is no continuity, no unity, no essence; merely that these "entities" can only be achieved or, better, constructed by means of their opposites.


Europa '51

Rossellini's next film, Europa '51 , his second with Bergman, has been seen only rarely in the United States or elsewhere since its initial release in 1952. It is not a film that reveals its depths on a first viewing, and, in that regard, is similar to Rossellini's Bergman-era masterpiece Voyage to Italy . It does, however, have its excellent moments. The placidity of Francesco is now absent, for here the director returns to the moral discontinuities of the postwar era. Francesco 's themes are still in evidence, however, now transposed to the modern world, and if the saint's "perfect joy" eludes Irene, the heroine of Europa '51 , her "madness" is clearly a contemporary variety of the strange behavior of those marginalized figures of the Middle Ages. Bergman, in fact, reported that Rossellini told her, immediately after making Francesco , "I am going to make a story about St. Francis and she's going to be a woman and it's going to be you."[1]

The plot concerns a young society woman who is more devoted to giving parties than to her young son. Early in the film, he attempts suicide—recalling the earlier child suicide of Germany, Year Zero —and, after a short period when he seems to improve, dies suddenly of a blood clot. Irene, enormously upset by her son's death, casts aside her former life and, on the advice of Andrea, a cousin who is a Communist journalist, begins devoting herself to the poor. She becomes so intensely involved in her charity work that she is finally committed to an insane asylum, for in her quest for a truly moral life in the service of others, she is judged to be abnormal by all the representatives of society, including her rich husband, the psychiatrist, and even the priest and the Communist cousin.


Again, the characteristic Rossellinian refusal to be judgmental is in evidence. So, for example, while we realize that Irene and her husband have been remiss in not paying more attention to their son, it is difficult to estimate just how much blame we can attach to them. It is always possible that the child is hypersensitive and would have attempted suicide in any case: we simply don't know. Similarly, at the end, though most evidence leads us to suppose that Irene is not really insane, at the same time her behavior is truly "abnormal," that is, not like other people's behavior. What other definition of mental illness do we finally have? Some of the dialogue also perversely goes counter to the rest of the information we are receiving. Thus, when Irene is asked by the priest at the end if she has performed all of her eccentric good deeds out of love, she says no, it was out of hatred for herself and what she was. The line carries just enough manic charge to suggest that perhaps she is mentally unbalanced after all. Despite these ambiguities, however, the characteristic and central ambivalence of the other Bergman films, the man-woman relationship, is here not as sharply etched. Rather, it is Irene's moral struggle that occupies center stage, and the marital relationship is barely portrayed at all. George, her husband, is firmly on the side of the establishment, but is in no sense involved personally with her in an emotional or sexual struggle, as are Bergman's other "husbands."

Other influences besides Francesco were involved in the choice of subject, including Simone Weil, the French social philosopher, mystic, and Resistance fighter who died of starvation in England during the war after renouncing food in solidarity with her countrymen still under the Nazi yoke. One of the most brilliant sequences of the film, when Irene goes to work in a factory one day to fill in for one of her poor friends, seems to have been inspired by Weil's account of the year she spent in the mid-thirties working in an automobile factory, a book published much later in English as The Need for Roots . Since one of the principal areas of disagreement concerning this film has centered on its depiction of Irene's experience in the factory, I want to return to it later.[2]

In formal terms the film is more linear and conventionally "dramatic" than Francesco , probably due to the exigencies of the star system, but it nevertheless remains highly elliptical and the implausible plot development is halting at best. As with the earlier film, these features can be seen as formal manifestations of the shared thematic emphasis on the nonlinear and the irrational. The early scenes laconically portray the domestic life of the Girard family, with little or no time wasted on establishing narrative suspense or on the development of subsidiary characters. Jose Guarner has characterized the film as merely a "statement of the facts," and maintains that the conflict is sketched in Irene's face (close-ups of which obsessively punctuate the film at regular intervals), which he sees giving the film its coherence, similar to Falconetti's face in Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc .[3] Maurizio Ponzi, unconsciously suggesting the complex interplay between the stylized and "real" that we considered earlier in Una voce umana , has in fact called it a "documentary on a face."[4]

Europa '51 can perhaps be best understood as a film à thèse . Rossellini has discussed his intentions in this film in virtually the same terms that he had used earlier concerning La macchina ammazzacattivi . The remarks are important enough to quote in full:


In each of us there's the jester side and its opposite; there is the tendency towards concreteness and the tendency towards fantasy. Today there is a tendency to suppress the second quite brutally. The world is more and more divided in two, between those who want to kill fantasy and those who want to save it, those who want to die and those who want to live. This is the problem I confront in Europa '51 . There is a danger of forgetting the second tendency, the tendency towards fantasy, and killing every feeling of humanity left in us, creating robot man, who must think in only one way, the concrete way. In Europa '51 this inhuman threat is openly and violently denounced. I wanted to state my own opinion quite frankly, in my own interest and in my children's. That was the aim of this latest film.[5]

Rossellini made this statement in the early fifties (note the hint of cold war rhetoric), and his next mention of the film, some twenty years later, is disparaging. By the seventies, of course, his view of the relative merits of the "concrete" and the "fantastic" was quite different, and his emphasis had shifted dramatically to science as the most productive link between the rational mind and the facticity of the world. But, in Europa '51 , rationality is still the enemy because it is associated with the antihuman and the mechanical, those forces that seek to reduce the complexity of the world and human beings to a formula. Whether that formula is scientific, religious, legal, or political makes no difference at all.[6]

Just as we have seen in the films following Open City , Rossellini is operating a complex, dynamic relationship between what might be called the realistic and the expressionist in Europa '51 . In the earlier films, this dynamic took the form of an implied critique, by means of various self-reflexive gestures, of realist aesthetics. Here, what is being questioned is film's ability to penetrate into the "heart" of a character it chooses to study. Still committed to the "documentary of the individual," which came to the fore with Germany, Year Zero , Rossellini seems increasingly dubious about the efficacy of film to penetrate much beyond the surface of raw human phenomena. On one level, then, the film seems to say that it can finally be little more than a "documentary of the face" after all. Irene's character has been interpreted by critics in so many different ways that the final unknowability of the other can even be seen as one of the film's principal themes. Near the end, when she is being "scientifically" tested for mental illness, the flickering tachistoscope that is foisted on her, so closely resembling a film projector, suggests a homology between science and the cinema in the futility of their mutual attempts to penetrate to a sure knowledge of any human being.

Perhaps the film's most obvious theme arises as early as its title: Europa '51 . At first glance, this seems to attest strongly to Rossellini's close attention to "reality." He is not just telling any old story, in other words, but a story that is expressly marked by a specific time and place. Paradoxically, however, Rossellini's title, by its very specificity names a general essence: this is a story not simply about a woman named Irene whose son commits suicide, but one that is meant to be emblematic for an entire continent and an entire historical period—the film's "now." Of course, any character can be seen in essentializing terms as "representing" an age; the difference here is that this fact is so firmly insisted upon that virtually no other possibility remains. Though Europa '51 avoids


being a film about people in general or "human nature," because it is a film about people at a very specific historical juncture, it clearly presumes to tell us about "all people" in this time and place.[7]

Other themes reappear, including the one that defines so much of Rosselini's career, the war. Except for the background of the camp from which Karin, in Stromboli , wants so desperately to escape, however, this is its first reappearance since Germany, Year Zero . But Rossellini does not go back to the bombed-out cities, as he was urged to do by his well-meaning supporters who wanted him to return to his "authentic self." Instead, the war functions as a moral horizon that has redefined the human condition; the subject is no longer the killing of the body that so occupied the first two films of the postwar trilogy, but rather the spiritual killing so painfully present in Germany, Year Zero . Now the spiritual decay, the director suggests, has spread beyond the destitute inhabitants of Berlin to encompass the middle class as well.

Nor is there any relief available through the coralità that redeemed the horrors of Open City and Paisan . A possibility is briefly offered early on, when we encounter Irene playing the charming hostess for her society parties. We understand soon enough, however, that this is a false coralità , an inauthentic subgroup (unlike that of the Franciscans) that will turn on Irene the moment she asserts, like so many other Rossellini women, her difference. Irene's difference from the group cannot be tolerated, however unthreatening it may appear to us, and a character at the end of the film overtly recalls the men to their duty to "protect society" from the likes of her. Society defends itself by marginalizing these threats, categorizing them as mad or "abnormal." Nanni, Karin, Francesco, and now Irene: the differences among them more a matter of degree than of kind. The coralità of earlier films is thus bitterly reversed, and that which had earlier fostered the individual now kills.

Like other films of this period, Europa '51 , to the dismay of those critics who would make of Rossellini the supreme realist, quickly announces its stylized, expressionist mode. It opens with a car cruising through wet, visually rich streets, an opening that will be repeated and reach its expressionist peak in Fear . In an early scene the boy complains to his mother that his teacher "gets too close"—another reference to Germany, Year Zero meant, as in the earlier film, to stand for a more global sense of corruption that affects society at all levels. During this discussion to which the mother barely attends, the camera focuses on the boy and his obvious lack of affect, while she speaks offscreen. In conventional terms, it is rather early in the film to separate voice and body in this way, but here it serves nicely as a visual-aural manifestation of the disjunction between them. The boy casually pretends to strangle himself with his mother's necklace (recalling a similar gesture in Una voce umana ), and the necklace, as a synecdoche for her socializing, operates efficiently as a causal analysis of his later suicide attempt. (After his death, his picture turns up in several scenes, always between the actors, suggesting the ongoing accusatory force of his moral presence.)[8]

An active, expressionist camera is present from the first. Constant dollies, here filling the role later taken up by the development of the Pancinor zoom


lens, seem to offer instant intimacy with the characters, but since this intimacy is always blocked—at least at this point in the film—the spectator's attempt to grasp the purposely two-dimensional characters is continually frustrated. The camera also catches the immediacy of the boy's suicide attempt. The camera is absent when it happens, which is appropriate considering the difficulty of filming a convincing suicide attempt, but also because the absence of the camera marks the absence of any concern, parental or otherwise, toward the boy. Instead, the camera chillingly replicates his quick, fatal movement up over the railing and down the circular stairwell. (In addition, Rossellini explicitly mentions in a later interview the importance of the jagged rhythm that has the boy attempt suicide, seem to recover, and then, when least expected, die.)

The absolute horror of the suicide provokes a traumatic moment in the life of the protagonist.[9] Rossellini's aesthetic of the existential moment has been clearly in evidence before (the suicide at the end of Germany, Year Zero and the revelations of transcendent meaning at the end of Stromboli ) and will be again at the end of Voyage to Italy . Here the difference is that the traumatic moment comes near the beginning of the film, and instead of the narrative being resolved in these epiphanic, transcendent terms—to which one is able only to assent in the other films, since they are instantly over—the rest of Europa '51 is, uniquely, a working out of the consequences of that moment. Europa '51 also stages a moment of realization at the end, but this epiphany more closely resembles those of Paisan , where the realization of the moment's meaning occurs principally within the spectator, rather than the three separate groups of characters depicted (the insensitive rich, Irene's family; the uncomprehending poor, Irene's adopted family; and Irene, now reduced more to suffering victim than active naysayer to society's corrupt values).

Strangely, it is not until sometime after the suicide attempt, when Irene is seen in the car with her Communist cousin, Andrea, that we actually learn that the boy died of a blood clot.[10] Before this, the spectator is unsure of what has happened—characteristically, Rossellini is in no hurry to elucidate things—and it seems at first as though he has attempted suicide again, this time successfully. Andrea takes Irene to Michelangelo's Campidoglio in Rome, which contained, at the time the film was made, an original classical statue of Marcus Aurelius that visually and ironically opposes the profound values of antiquity to those of the present day, in the manner of Godard's film Contempt . For the Communist, however, the point is to place Irene's problems in the context of present, rather than past, history, to combat her overwhelming sense of individual guilt. He tells her, as a good materialist, that she must begin to pay attention to "things as they are." When she insists that it is either her fault or society's, he replies, in what must be the most unconvincing line in the entire film, "Blame this postwar society." Later, of course, Irene will reject the Communist answer along with all the others, and a lively debate has arisen concerning the portrait of the Communist that this film offers. At this point, however, the Communist is regarded in a clearly favorable light; if his answer is not the correct one, finally, because it is as overly programmatic and "rational" as the others, he nevertheless serves the important function of moral catalyst for Irene, allowing her to see the world in a new light. When he mentions the injustice of a little boy who is dying


The ubiquitous Rossellini automobile: Irene (Bergman)
with her Communist cousin (Ettore Giannini), in  Europa '51  (1952).

because his family does not have enough money to pay for his expensive drugs, Irene is motivated enough to transcend her narcissistic suffering and begin moving beyond the concerns of self toward the service of others.

Another important nexus of the film's themes comes up in Irene's encounter with "Passerotto" ("Little Sparrow"), a down-to-earth representative of the working class played by Giulietta Masina. (Her dubbing into English has unfortunately turned her into an Italian Shelley Winters, but as Robin Wood has pointed out, the dubbing problem in the Bergman-era films simply must be overlooked by the viewer who does not want to get mired in the ultimately superficial.) With her brood of fatherless children, she stands in clear opposition to Irene: as a woman who is presumably more closely in contact with the realities of life, she represents the vibrancy of the life force itself, in contrast to Irene's sterility. It must be insisted, however, that no one-to-one, simplistic equation is made between having children and natural happiness—it is Masina's vitality in general that Rossellini seems to approve of. It has also been argued by some Marxist critics that aligning Passerotto with the "life force" in this way is also a form of popolismo , the not uniquely Italian error of idealizing the working classes. Rossellini gets around this charge, however, by thoroughly demystifying the poor and downtrodden people portrayed in the film. Thus, when Irene manages to find Passerotto a job in a factory, Passerotto decides that a date


with her boyfriend is more important than showing up on what was to be her first day at work. Irene is persuaded to fill in for her—setting the stage for the most powerful scene in the film—but Passerotto's refusal to give up the immediate gratification of meeting her boyfriend for a middle-class notion of getting ahead is significant, and gives evidence of a sophisticated sense of class value systems. Rossellini's clearly favorable portrayal of Passerotto in all other ways works nicely against our own bourgeois offense at her lack of interest in the factory job, and renders her character as complex and many-sided, and as finally irresolvable, as any other in the film. This act of demystication is repeated later when Irene helps a prostitute who, instead of being eternally grateful, turns out to be quite grumpy and thankless.

When Passerotto asks Irene to fill in for her at the factory, Irene says that she would have no idea what to do there. Passerotto replies, with incontrovertible logic, "Neither would I." Unable to respond, Irene goes to the factory. Suddenly, the whole texture of the film changes: the rather stylized realism that has prevailed turns into the harsh graininess of the documentary sections of La macchina ammazzacattivi . We see Irene entering the factory with obviously real workers, who assert their reality, and thus clash with the codes of realism, by defiantly looking straight into the camera, momentarily destroying the fabric of the film's illusionism.[11]

The sequence shot inside the factory is immensely powerful. It recalls at once the expressionist scenes of the underworld of industrial life in Lang's Metropolis and Rossellini's own footage in La nave bianca , in which the mechanical bowels of the ship are shown simply for the sake of their dynamic, demonic interest. Irene and the other human figures are lost in extreme long shots that dwarf and isolate them. Huge, whirling machines reduce her to a nonentity, she who has been so selfish and egocentric, while the overpowering noise assaults her senses. A close shot brings her face up to us, and we see her eyes bob violently up and down, trying to keep track of the workings of the machine she has been assigned to. Rossellini's editing takes an Eisensteinian turn here, as it had ten years earlier, becoming faster and faster, upsetting us, but managing to convey at the same time the thrill of the machine's inherent vitality as it spits out its product. Quick cuts between a close-up of Irene's face and the pounding of the metal press link the two emotionally for us; she is clearly on the edge of breaking down. The film then cuts suddenly to a scene of "polite society" to emphasize the contrast.

George, Irene's husband, reacts to her quest in a typically patriarchal way, assuming that the only reason for a "woman of her class" to be involved in such foolishness is another man. The Communist Andrea, by earlier making an amorous advance to Irene, has put himself into this same system of values, which the film clearly insists is beside the point . Neither man is able to understand that Irene's values occupy a different register. Having earlier spurned Andrea's advances, she now turns down his Communist philosophy as well, and this has not endeared the film to Communist critics. It is certainly true that Andrea's Marxism is not very sophisticated, offering as it does a picture of an earthly paradise that will be realized when the revolution is victorious. But, not surprisingly in a film by the director who made The Miracle, Stromboli , and


Francesco , Irene insists that "the problem is much deeper than that, it's spiritual." She wants God to help her in her search "for the spiritual path." She needs the possibility of a life where there is also a place for her dead son, as she says, not just an earthly paradise for the living. She articulates a philosophy of love that is clearly Franciscan in inspiration.

What has particularly bothered Marxist critics is that her experience in the factory leads Irene to reject not only the promise of an earthly utopia, but also the very worth of work itself. When Andrea suggests that work ennobles, Irene insists that it is horrible. Naturally, this condemnation is troublesome, coming from a rich bourgeoise after one day spent getting her hands dirty. Yet, Rossellini and Irene are clearly talking about the alienating assault on the mind and body that most labor in an advanced moment of the industrial age has become, and no serious Marxist would want to argue that factory work as presently constituted in capitalist countries is anything but deadening.

If Irene rejects politics, however, the Church is not the answer either. We remember that it failed Edmund, Nanni, and Karin, and it fails Irene as well. As the chiaroscuro of the visuals becomes more pronounced in the final section of the film, indicating her deepening spiritual and psychological crisis, Irene heads for a church. As in the earlier films, the whole scene is handled without a single word of dialogue: she walks up the stairs, goes in, looks uncomprehendingly at the priests, the baroque altar, and some old ladies dressed in black, and goes back out the door. The Church is clearly the place of the dead, and only the dead; while it supplies the spiritual element missing in communism, it is unable to minister to the living.

Irene next encounters the ungrateful prostitute who is dying of tuberculosis. In a lovely series of visuals, Irene goes out into the night in search of a doctor for the woman, and a long shot appropriately emphasizes her new isolation. For by helping a prostitute, she is performing an act of charity that not even any honest working-class person would perform, thereby implicating them as well in the general critique of modern society. Her situation has become analogous to that of Eliot Rosewater in Kurt Vonnegut's novel God Bless, You, Mr. Rosewater (1965): she wants to help people simply because they need help, irrespective of all other factors, and thus she is thought insane. Since the vast majority of us have already succumbed to what Vonnegut calls "Samaritrophia," we need to call these people crazy. Irene gets so caught up in the prostitute's problems that we become uncomfortable, especially when she cries for her as though she has known her all her life. Isn't she overdoing it? Or is she simply being a good Christian? Again, Rossellini refuses to clarify the complex issue. As the prostitute dies, the camera briefly catches what looks like a picture of Saint Francis on the table next to her bed.

When Irene next becomes involved—rather quickly, and thus completely unrealistically—this time in the getaway of a young bank robber from the neighborhood, she tries to get him to give himself up voluntarily, but will not turn him in herself. At this point, she has finally crossed beyond what society will legally permit; the policeman to whom she attempts to explain the situation refuses to consider anything beyond the sheer letter of the law, in all its glorious abstraction from the exigencies of the moment. Her case is handled by three


men—whereas most of her group of supporters and friends are women—and all of officialdom, including her family, want to attribute her craziness to the death of her son, in order, obviously, to explain and thus domesticate the irrationality of her behavior. Her husband treats her like a child and worries about all the publicity as he pilots his obscene Cadillac through the narrow streets of Rome.

The hospital they take Irene to is white and sterile, and Rossellini succeeds in conveying, as Hitchcock does in The Wrong Man , a visceral sense of what it would be like to be locked up against one's will. She is stuck in a room with no door handles on the inside, and the family sneaks off without a word of explanation. She does get sympathy from the hospital maid, across class lines, and appropriately again, from a woman. Against all odds, Irene manages to remain calm, even when she is brought into the "lounge" area, where the camera works out a stylized waltz that brings us violently up against one madwoman after another. The suggestion is that this is a subjective shot from Irene's point of view, but it carries a third-person feel as well, and thus does not naturalize and domesticate the madness we see before us by attributing the perception to Irene. The testing she next undergoes is as dehumanizing and psychologically violent as her day in the factory.

Rossellini's critique of organized religion is continued with the visit of the hospital's chaplain; the light that streams through the cell's windows and onto its sterile walls conjures up the church we saw earlier. The priest, just like the other males—judge, policeman, husband, and Communist—misunderstands as well because he cannot think beyond the hidebound rules he lives by to the human reality that the rules were originally meant to address. Irene offers a radical spirituality, not really much different from the radicality of Christ's teaching, but which organized religion has been at some pains ever since to tame: she tells the priest she wants to love all people as the sinners they are, instead of trying to change them. Looking more and more like Saint Joan, she insists that if this is done, a great spiritual force will take over and grow.

The psychiatrist next goes to work on her, grilling her about the "force" inside her. "Are you dominated by the great spiritual power of the saints?" he asks, "No," she replies, rejecting the connection with Saint Joan, "then I'd be crazy." "Then it's love?" "No, it's hate for all the things I was before, hatred for myself." Her words make sense, but isn't self-hatred also pathological? The men who consult to decide her fate cast their decision, as might be expected, in thoroughly linear, either-or terms: is she insane or is she a missionary? There is no other choice possible for them: society must be defended, they say. The priest questions her regarding her plans, and she confounds them again by saying she does not want to go home because she is sure that she would inevitably fall back into her old ways. She wants to devote herself to the people who need her, she says, not her husband, for her love is wider than that. "When you're bound to nothing," she says, in the film's most direct statement of Franciscanism, "you're bound to everybody."

The decision is made: she is to be committed. She looks saintly in her spare, sterile room; she has finally become Saint Francis, with all the ambivalence that attaches to him. She looks out through her bars and, in an economical and resonant image, we see her insensitive family moving away from her and the


Irene being interviewed by a psychiatrist in the asylum in  Europa'51 .

asylum in their Cadillac, while her loyal followers, the poor folks led by Passerotto, move toward her, chanting their love and admiration. It is a perfect moment of synthesis, as the poor proclaim her sainthood. The last, quite moving shot shows Irene's ravaged face, through the bars of her cell. From her eyes come what Eric Rohmer has called "the most beautiful tears ever shed on a screen."[12]

Even at the very end, and beyond, we still do not know how to take her. Irene is obviously the innocent victim of society's insistence on conformity—Rossellini's idea of the film's theme at the time[13] —but her extreme devotion to the poor does seem "abnormal" as well. More importantly, questions have been raised concerning the film's politics (Rossellini naturally maintaining no political views were expressed). Some have attacked the director for once again cloaking his suffering heroine in the obnoxious robes of religion and mysticism. Guido Aristarco has even attempted to turn the director's accusation on himself, by claiming that his denunciation of conformity and moral deafness is similar to those who "knowing themselves to be guilty, accuse others of the same fault."[14] Gianni Aiello has also brought up the vulnerable point of Irene's subjective motivation, insisting that her desire for solitude "stems only from personal motives, and has no objective justification. Thus the 'ideological' weakness of Rossellini takes shape."[15] Even a supporter like Gianni Rondolino has suggested that the problem with the film is that its depiction of society's problems is too closely wrapped up with that of Irene's own problems.[16]


By the 1970s, however, many younger critics and students, with the experience of 1968 behind them, were able to see the film's politics in a new light. Baldelli's seminar, to which I have referred earlier, is instructive in this regard. Some of the students still expressed strongly negative views of the film (even in Rossellini's presence), but others regarded it more favorably. It is easier for us to see now that, given the choice between the rigid dogmatism of the Communist party of the early 1950s, and the rigid dogmatism of the Church, Rossellini was trying to strike out into new territory, a territory that would exceed the limitations of binary thinking. As one of Baldelli's students rightly suggested, the film can in some ways be seen as a long, complex (and unresolved) meditation on the relation of political practice to the political theory offered by the leftist in the film.

Another debate on Rossellini, also held in the early 1970s, the transcripts of which have been collected by Gianni Menon in a book entitled Dibattito su Rossellini , shows signs of the same change in critical and political perspective. Enzo Ungari, for example, stresses the fact that Europa'51 is, in spite of appearances, very political in its anticipation of the late-sixties revolt against orthodoxies of all stripes. He sees Irene's story, perhaps somewhat improbably, as the refusal of false consciousness, for to be really political for others, one must free oneself from all ideological schematism, and this is precisely what Irene does. Others in the debate felt that it would be a useful film to show on television because it would reach the masses, and serve as a "toned-down" mediator between the official cinema and more overtly leftist filmmaking. Maurizio Ponzi has elsewhere taken a similar position, maintaining that "at the ideological level, it is a subversive film, the revolution made film, because it doesn't judge, it doesn't insist, while at the same time it follows a story which protests in every frame."[17]

Perhaps the final word on this film and its openness to interpretation should be left to the eloquent Adriano Aprà. During the debate transcribed in Menon's book, he declared:

Rossellini is a terrorist, like Irene in Europa '51: he puts you face to face with your personal responsibilities. You are either with me or against me. No compromises are permitted, no "we'll see later": you have to take a position, immediately. This evening many have rejected not the film, but a position, opposing an alleged rationality to a presumed irrationality. In so doing, they have rejected the possibility of a whole man and the necessity of error.

Instead, it is necessary to make mistakes because making mistakes is life. Death does not make mistakes, it doesn't discuss or choose; all the dead are equal, they don't bother us, because corpses don't have eyes to look at us. Rossellini's films look at us straight in the eye. When a man looks at you in the eye, you either turn and run or you go toward him and by this action fulfill yourself.

The majority of Italian cinema is a cinema of the dead, and "realistic" in the sense that it shows us how we are, it puts us at peace with ourselves, it conciliates, it does not show us what we are not and how we could become that. It's a cinema of peace, of pacification, while that of Rossellini is a cinema of war, of guerilla action, of revolution.[18]


Dov'è la Libertà?

Immediately after finishing Europa '51 , Rossellini began work on Dov' è la libertà? (Where Is Freedom?), conceived, uncharacteristically, as a vehicle for the popular Italian comic Totò. Filming proceeded fitfully, with serious interruptions: the trial scene, for example, which serves as the framing "present moment" from which the story proper is told in flashback, was shot a year after the rest of the film, during the summer of 1953. (Jose Guarner mentions in passing that this frame scene was filmed by another director, without naming him, but I have been unable to find any corroboration for this claim.) Further interruptions caused the editing to be put off until 1954, when the film was finally released. It has managed to go almost totally unnoticed in the intervening years, and even Rossellini, in all his many interviews, seems to have mentioned it only once. Critics as well, for various reasons, have either passed over the film with a single descriptive line or omitted it altogether.

This is a shame, for Dov' è la libertà? has its own unique place in Rossellini's oeuvre. Like Europa '51 , it articulates an attack on modern society and offers a dark vision of the perfidy of the human race, but now the key has shifted to humor. The humor is bitterly won, however, and the film's vision, for all its "comedy," is even bleaker than that of Europa '51 . Dov' è la libertà? also shares the loneliness and alienation of its predecessor at the level of decor, lighting and mise-en-scène, but at least here the coralità offered by a subgroup ultimately allows its protagonist, as in Francesco and unlike Irene in Europa '51 , to escape the isolation of the self.

The story begins with the release from prison of a warm and decent Roman barber named Salvatore (played by Totò) who has served a sentence of more


Rossellini on the set of  Dov'è la libertà?  (1952–54) with Totò and Nyta Dover.

than twenty years for having cut the throat of his best friend, after discovering that he was having an affair with his wife. The world has changed a great deal since Salvatore was last in it, and he has difficulty coping with the constant stream of trickery and viciousness that he encounters. In fact, the entire tale is told in first-person flashback at his trial for "breach of a public building": he has been caught trying to sneak back into prison when his inhumane treatment by society convinces him that he was better off in jail. Salvatore recounts his adventures with a nonstop ballroom dancing contest in which his kind heart costs him all his money; an old prison "friend" who tricks him into passing a counterfeit bill; the shady landlady who puts him out in the street when he begins to notice her daughter; and his wife's family, scheming and vicious behind their Felliniesque exuberance. When he discovers that his new girlfriend has become pregnant by another man, he finally gives up and tries to reenter the prison. He is caught, put on trial, and, when the judge decides to fine him rather than incarcerate him, he is crushed. At the end of the film, he calculatingly bites his lawyer's ear—the lawyer who has tried his best to get him off, despite Salvatore's wishes—and we last see him convicted of assault, but happily reinserted into prison life.

The film is Totò's from the start, as the cute little cartoon of him peering out from behind bars makes clear in the credits. For the critic Massimo Mida, the


encounter of the comic and the director was a disaster, for it did not give Totò a chance to find a newer and less schematic character, nor did it succeed as slick entertainment.[1] Pierre Kast, on the other hand, in an improbable access of enthusiasm, exclaimed in Cahiers du cinèma in 1956, when French support for the mistreated Rossellini was at its peak, that the film "stupified me with its cruelty and bitterness. It's a parable of the purest Swiftian type, unpitying and almost intolerable. For my taste, Rossellini's best film, and one of the few that I completely love."[2] A more balanced view might be that, while the film is ultimately rather unsuccessful, it nonetheless contains hints of the explosive mixture of Rossellinian textures and motifs that we saw in La macchina ammazzacattivi , a film with which it is closely related. While its comedy may "spoil" its serious side (and vice versa), it is also this uneasy mélange that makes it an interesting, if modest, moment in the Rossellini canon.

The director's single extant comment on this film makes its connection with his previous work explicit:

Q: [La macchina ammazzacattivi ] and Dov'è la libertà? both have a tone of fantasy which is unusual in your films. Do they represent a tendency or are they just isolated cases?

A: They are experiments. La macchina ammazzacattivi is an isolated experiment, but Dov'è la libertà? which is like it in some ways, is much more a side-product of Europa '51: it's related to it because it's an attempt to investigate the same situation. Then there's the extraordinary character of Totò. The film as it stands today is very much hacked about, it was much more cruel. The softening up was done by the producers and it makes it more lightweight. But they're not very important films, just experiments.[3]

The explicit connection with Europa '51 establishes an interesting filiation: Dov' è la libertà? is a "side product" of Europa '51 , which was a modernized "remake" of Francesco , which itself grew out of the monastery sequence of Paisan , whose subject had been conceived during the shooting of Open City . Perhaps more revealing is the link with La machina ammazzacattivi: it is misleading for the interviewers to suggest that both films "have a tone of fantasy," for the earlier film indulges in the supernatural as part of its plot, while nothing happens in the later film that is, strictly speaking, fantastic. The operative irony—that a man seeking freedom would want to return to jail—may be unrealistic in terms of everyday experience, but is not, for all that, otherworldly. The similarity of tone between these two films seems to stem rather from the stylization that they both self-consciously stage, which is further underlined by a provocative admixture of traditional neorealist realism, even if most critics have found them both disappointing mélanges that just do not work.

Dov' è la libertà? fairly shouts its "madeness," and instead of pretending to open a window on reality, it goes directly toward an essence, this time a moral one. Its narrative technique also works against naive realism, for the entire film is told in flashback, a technique that has not been seen since the Rome episode of Paisan and, with the exception of Giovanna d'Arco al rogo , will never be seen again in Rossellini's entire career. Since the flashback technique inherently foregrounds the manufactured, constructed nature of what we are seeing—it is very


self-consciously a story told by someone, who obviously has an interest in the telling—we can perhaps understand why it was condemned by Roy Armes as being "untrue" to neorealism. Once the myth of natural vision is given up, however, the flashback, given its subjective base, can be seen as problematizing and tugging against the insistent "reality" and apparent objectivity of the cinematic image. The audience's sense of a subjectively motivated story can lead, in turn, to an awareness of a more inclusive subjectivity at work—that of the director himself.

But the film's self-consciousness does not end with its narrative technique. From beginning to end, for one thing, it is particularly talky and quite theatrical in its staging. The sets are artificial—properly, if not purposely, so, I would argue—and the lighting is intensely expressionistic, in several outdoor scenes (clearly filmed on a set) exceeding even the even the most stylized Hollywood films noirs in this respect. The music, by Renzo Rossellini, is jarringly jazzy, much like the music of that equally nervous urban film of alienation made ten years later, Anima nera . It seems not to "fit" at all and, thus, is one more element serving to break the placid surface of verisimilitude. The cinematography follows the practice of that earlier comedian, Chaplin: extremely long-held shots by an utterly immobile camera, planted in what often seems to be the fifth row, are completely subservient to the gestures and play of the comedian. Early in the film, for example, we are treated to an exceptionally long scene in the prison barbershop, which is run by Salvatore. One of the prisoners is singing passionately of his desire to return home in a song called "Casa mia" (an idealized equation of freedom and the outside that will shortly be turned on its head). Salvatore has stopped shaving his client in order to listen to the singing, and the camera—as well as the singer and the other actors—remains absolutely motionless for what seems an enormously long time, certainly long enough that the viewer becomes aware that he or she is watching a performance. (Just as editing in a conventional film must remain "invisible" to give an effect of total illusion, the complete absence of editing for an extended period works in exactly the opposite way.) The scene remains a frozen tableau until the moment Salvatore puts his arm around the young man in a gesture of solidarity that is both humorous and emotionally convincing at the same time.

Furthermore, the film contains no dollies, and the backgrounds are only minimally sketched in so as not to distract attention from the protagonist's comic routine. Though a very few close-ups are used to excellent effect, the basic cinematographic unit here is the medium shot, which always favors performance. The wipe, the antithesis of invisible editing, is used frequently to make the transition from one scene to another, as it was in La macchina ammazzacattivi , and as it will be in one of Rossellini's most "artificial" films, the short he made on Ingrid Bergman in Siamo donne . A laugh track operates similarly to punctuate Totò's jokes in the courtroom, but, contrary to conventional practice, Rossellini never cuts to the laughing courtroom faces to "naturalize" and explain the laugh track. The effect of all these formal devices, once again, is to highlight the whole scene's theatricality and deny any possible claim to be directly representing reality. What is interesting about this film, however, as with La macchina ammazzacattivi , is that in the midst of all this artificiality, a


jarring note of reality is introduced in the person of the dancing contestants that Salvatore meets just a short time after leaving prison. As the director proudly states in the opening credits, the people playing these dancers are the real dancing marathon champions themselves—Ines Targas, and Fred and Aronne. The knowledge we have that these people are not actors performing according to naturalistic conventions, but real people trying to "be" rather than to "act" (or rather, more complexly, being and acting at the same time) sets up a dynamic with the stylized elements that, instead of working against them, emphasizes them all the more.

In terms of its content, the film could not be more straightforward in its rather simple ironies. Contrasted with the ugliness of Salvatore's "family-in-law," the prisoners are seen to enjoy an intricate and mutually supportive social structure. If society as a whole is bad, the film tells us, the Italian myth of the family—especially if you are an outsider—is just as mistaken, and through their shabby treatment of Salvatore, despite their surface protestations of love, we learn that there is no coralità to be found here either. Rossellini's attack on the family is as vicious, and as funny, as anything in Fellini, but it is unrelieved by Fellini's tender indulgence. In fact, Salvatore is the film's only truly moral character, bent on righting wrongs and foolishly trying to protect all those who turn out to be more than capable of protecting themselves. One critic has condemned Salvatore for being just as petit bourgeois as the others in the film, but if so, it is clear that he has Rossellini's approval, and that Salvatore's values, if sometimes sexist and old-fashioned by modern standards, are clearly the best that the bourgeoisie has to offer.

When the perfidy of his pregnant girlfriend and the family (who, we discover, have stolen a Jewish friend's property while he and his family were interned in Auschwitz) become too great for Salvatore to bear, he realizes that "life outside is like being in a prison" and decides that he wants the freedom of jail. He conceives the idea of stealing the warden's hat and overcoat and, by disguising himself, sneaks back into prison. The longish "suspense" sequence of Salvatore's return is completely conventional and does not show Rossellini at his best, but the irony of the reversal provides some passing interest. Salvatore is discovered, and the penultimate scene puts us back into the present time in the frame tale of the trial. The prosecutor—that stalwart representative and protector of society, like the men who torment Irene in Europa '51 —gets it precisely all wrong in his closing speech when he attacks Salvatore for being an immoral criminal. But, irony of ironies, the judge decides to be lenient, only fining Salvatore instead of sending him to prison, and Salvatore sinks.

The very end of this scene provides a satisfying emotional joining of the audience to Salvatore. Throughout, dramatic irony has operated against him; time and time again, we see how he is being used or cheated long before he does. At the end, however, as Salvatore asks his lawyer a series of questions about the penalties concerning physical attack, his plan slowly dawns on us. When he does attack the lawyer so that he will be sent back to prison, his knowledge is for once ahead of ours, and the dramatic irony is finally at the expense of one of his exploiters. The last short scene, without voices, shows him happily reinserted into the social fabric of prison life. We also realize, however, that the only reason Sal-


vatore would want to return to prison is that Rossellini's idea of prison is precisely that, an idea , a site for a limp thematics of freedom, with absolutely no relation to real prison life as it has ever existed anywhere on earth. The film is thus also thoroughly stylized at its very broadest level.

As an exploration of an idea, however, it falls far short, even granting that its main purpose is comedy; the real problem of freedom is barely taken up, as Rossellini's pervasive bitterness of the moment short-circuits any sustained inquiry that might move beyond the two-dimensional irony that eventually wears thin. At this time, Rossellini's view of freedom is rather simplistic, as can be seen in this general remark made on the subject in the 1954 Cahiers du cinéma interview: "When people talk about freedom, the first thing they add is 'freedom, sure, but within certain limits.' No, they even refuse abstract freedom because it's a dream that is too beautiful. And that's why I find in Christianity such an immense power: there, I think, freedom is absolute, really absolute."[4]

The problem of freedom will be taken up again ten years later in Vanina Vanini , where in spite of the film's histrionic trappings, freedom is viewed in a complex relationship with sexuality and history. The real question that Dov' è la libertà? raises is political. Are people so malevolent that the only possible "freedom" is the regimentation of a prison? This does not seem to be an idea that could have brought comfort—or even laughter—to an Italy a bare ten years away from fascism.

The Italian critics Franca Faldini and Goffredo Fofi, in their book on Totò, put the film into what is perhaps its most revealing context. For them, it is true that the film does not "work" because it was too rigid a format for Rossellini, and too somber for Totò:

And yet this film has, in our view, its own curious place in the history of neorealism, as its precise opposite. Like that extraordinary and almost involuntary masterpiece, [Visconti's] Bellissima, Dov'è la libertà? is an almost cynical film, a glance thrown back on the conventions of populism in order to step back from it almost disgusted, with the difference however that in Bellissima neorealism debates with and attacks itself, redeeming in an almost Gramscian manner the most serious popular values from the vision that the film itself presents of them. While Dov'è la libertà? goes still further, and saves almost nothing. . . . It's a profoundly reactionary apology, but heavy with an interesting thematic exasperation which goes decidedly against the grain of the rosy panorama of the neorealism of that time.[5]


Voyage to Italy

In no country in the world is death so domestic and affable as it is there, between Vesuvius and the sea.
—Italian saying

Viaggio in Italia (Voyage to Italy), Rossellini's third film with Ingrid Bergman, is thought by many to be his finest, and, in fact, one of the greatest films ever made; thirty years after its premierc, it regularly makes the top-ten listing of Cahiers du cinéma . The film does not release its riches on a first viewing, however, and many knowledgeable film critics have been and continue to be reluctant to share the French enthusiasm for the film. Repeated screenings gradually begin to reveal its many subtleties and its links with Rossellini's previous films. Chief among the latter is the complex theme of marital conflict and its relation to environment, which was initiated in Stromboli . Rossellini has said: "I consider Viaggio to be very important in my work. It was a film which rested on something very subtle, the variations in a couple's relationship under the influence of a third person: the exterior world surrounding them."[1]

The film also may have been important to Rossellini as disguised autobiography. Pierre Leprohon has nicely described this aspect of the Bergman-Rossellini collaboration:

For the man whose mission is to express passion and human sentiments, the woman in his life becomes, quite literally, his interpreter. It is her look, her voice, her gestures, her appeal that allow him to express himself. It is as if he married her a second time, by imparting to her his dreams, thoughts, and aspirations, since she, receiving them, makes them her own and communicates them to others. There is every reason to think that Ingrid Bergman made, as Rossellini's interpreter, a great contribution to his work, not only by her acting, but by her presence, by her aura.[2]

This much is certainly true; Robin Wood, however, finds almost exact analogues between the situations of characters in these films and Bergman's personal life.


Thus, Stromboli depicts her as the displaced person, Europa '51 dramatizes her guilt over leaving her child, and Voyage to Italy , along with the final collaboration, Fear , concerns the breakdown of their marriage. While provocative, Wood's list finally seems too conjectural and, worse, too reductive, to be of any real use. Nevertheless, his description of the autobiographical dynamic in Voyage to Italy is suggestive. For him, Katherine Joyce is also Ingrid, the Swede in Italy, uncertain about her future: "The poignance of the sequences in question arises out of the fusion of the two, the projection of the tension and uncertainty they have in common. It is a fusion—closely connected with Rossellini's very personal but immensely influential blending of fiction and documentary—possible only in the cinema."[3] Wood's description of the tension in Voyage to Italy is clearly related to that interplay between realism and reality that we have been tracing in Rossellini's other films, especially to the ontological dynamic Anna Magnani enacts in Una voce umana .

Rossellini's original plan was to adapt Colette's novel Duo (1934), which concerns a "happily married" couple whose marriage falls apart because the husband insists on upholding traditional views of marriage rather than responding to the specific sexual and emotional needs of his wife. When the wife refuses to apologize or feel guilty for an old love affair that the husband has discovered, he begins to moralize obsessively, finally losing control and taking his own life. In its concentration on the dynamic shifts of power within a sexual relationship, the novel is obviously related to the film, and its choice by the director tends to lend credence to Wood's autobiographical thesis. The focus of the novel, however, is very intensely on the couple, with no attention paid to their environment, and it is here that the film most strikingly departs from Colette's fiction.

Looking for an international male star to play opposite Bergman, Rossellini settled on the superficially suave and controlled George Sanders who, since his death, has been revealed as the desperate and deeply unhappy man he always was. By the time Sanders arrived, however, Rossellini had discovered that the rights to Colette's novel had already been sold. To keep Sanders interested, he immediately set out to draft another screenplay, or rather, treatment, that was to retain some elements of Colette's novel. Rossellini was not in the habit of discussing his plans with his actors, however, and Bergman confessed in her autobiography, "I was quite bewildered too, but I thought Roberto is Roberto; he might do another magnificent Open City . After all, we're going to Naples and he'll be inspired there."[4] Like most Italian film critics, Bergman, too, was waiting for Rossellini to stop all the "foolishness" and return to the scene of his earlier successes. This passage and others from her autobiography suggest that Bergman, like the vast majority of contemporary Italian critics, was ignorant of what her husband was really up to and, in fact, suffered a great deal during the making of these films, sublimating her own strong sense of professionalism to her continuing conviction of Rossellini's genius. As the cowriter of her autobiography explains: "Even Ingrid began to have doubts after the first two weeks shooting which consisted of her staring at ancient statues in the Naples Museum while an equally ancient guide bumbled on about the glories of Greece and Rome."[5] The voice of Hollywood and its obsession with the new and young echoes clearly


in this obtuse description of one of the most thematically complicated and emotionally fraught scenes of the film.

Sanders, trained to have the same expectations of standard Hollywood operating procedures as Bergman, became increasingly upset over Rossellini's penchant for assuring a spontaneous performance by withholding dialogue until the day before shooting. Each night found him talking by telephone to his psychiatrist back in Hollywood, and Rossellini finally sent for Sanders' wife, Zsa-Zsa Gabor, to try to cheer him up. More than once he simply broke down in tears, unable to continue for the frustration. At one point during the shooting, Sanders decided to go public with his anxiety, telling Riccardo Redi, a writer for the Italian journal Cinema , that when he complained about the lack of a finished script, "Rossellini decreed that I was an impossible man. People talk about neorealism . . . it's a joke. The real reason that Rossellini films in the streets is that studio sets cost money. I've seen some misers before, but I've never met anyone who could equal him. . . . I've heard that the film will be called Vino nuovo , and that's a perfect title, for new wine is always bad."[6]

Finally, Rossellini put a fatherly arm around Sanders' shoulder and said, "What are you getting so depressed about, at the worst you'll have made one more bad film—nothing worse than that can happen. . . . We've all made good films and bad films. So we'll make another bad one."[7] Robin Wood has suggested, in his interview with Bergman, that "George Sanders does look terribly unhappy all the way through" and that "it's a rather serious blot on the film."[8] Viewed another way, however, Sanders' unhappiness and lack of ease can be said to put an edge on his interpretation of the character that actually works quite well within the context of the film's unconventional narrative technique. Nor was Rossellini himself unaware of this effect. In the Aprà and Ponzi interview, he implied that Sanders' problems were simply more grist for his mill: "To be frank . . . you have to make them work for you. . . . Don't you think he was obvious for the part? It was his bad moods rather than his own personality that suited the character in the film."[9]

Rossellini's refusal to do things in the Hollywood manner extended, as usual, to his storytelling as well, and Voyage to Italy represents the perfecting of unconventional narrative, affective, and thematic strategies already present in his work from the very first. Thus, all the film's dramatic moments are consistently undercut. Nor is there much plot to speak of—a marriage is breaking up under the strains of a trip to Italy, and we watch; little else happens. Apparently superficial detail, however—the smallest, most fleeting facial expression, for example—assumes enormous proportions, as it does in the work of Dreyer, Mizoguchi, and Bresson. Episodic rather than linear in its development, the film emphasizes rhythm, suggestion, and nuance. Longueurs and temps mort are left in the finished film, rather than being edited out through a snappy montage that presumably would have moved things along better. (But what things? The minimal plot? Here, the surface of life is its depths.) It is a film composed of elements as tiny as barely perceivable emotional textures, and as immense as the meaning of life and death.

The other names by which the film was known when originally released dis-


play its distributors' complete misunderstanding: The Divorcée of Naples, The Greatest Love, Love Is the Strongest . In England, of course, it is still known as The Lonely Woman , a title that stresses only one side of the film's emotional dynamics and, like the mistranslation of De Sica's plural Ladri di biciclette into the singular Bicycle Thief , denies the thematic point of the film. Initial critical reaction was also swift and predictable. G. C. Castello, writing in the influential Cinema , rose to new heights of righteous indignation in the campaign against the director: "By this time, we've given up on Rossellini. But what is beginning to get annoying is that he has managed not only to ruin himself, but he's also ruining the woman who would, not unworthily, have succeeded Greta Garbo one day."[10]

This same critic objects that the film does not give enough information, especially psychological information about the characters. He wants, he says, to know why their marriage is going bad. What Castello misses is that the film offers their situation as an existential given, purposely denying us a previous "psychological case history" (an essential component of the code of realism) that would reduce the characters' rich, impenetrable presence, so much like that of people we meet in everyday life. The brilliance of Voyage to Italy is precisely its refusal to specify a "why," for that would be to recuperate human complexity and ambiguity into the graspable, the knowable; an illegitimate domestication, like most films, of the troubling inconsistencies of life.

Fortunately, critical opinion has changed over the years. Even by 1965, when the Italian journal Filmcritica conducted a poll of twelve of its collaborators on "The Ten Best Italian Films From Ossessione to the Present," nine mentioned Voyage to Italy .[11] This is also the film that crystallized the support of the nascent French New Wave around Rossellini's work at a time when his fortunes with Italian critics were at their nadir. Of the early French responses to the film, perhaps that of Eric Rohmer, written in 1955, is the most provocative. For Rohmer, Rossellini is playing with our built-in, automatic film responses without actually trying to break them. He makes us look for some significance behind the characters' actions: "The ancient link between the sign and the idea is broken, and a new one arises which disconcerts us." According to the French critic, this aesthetic manifests itself in a wholly new style; Rohmer openly admits that his mind wandered at times during the screening, but insists this is unimportant. At this point, however, Rohmer moves from an almost protostructuralist position to his more characteristic religious essentialism: "In this film in which everything seems to be merely accessory, everything, even the wildest wanderings of our minds, is part of the essential." For Rohmer, the third character of the film, as in Murnau's Sunrise , is God. In this way, the critic is once again able to recuperate the fragmented and the aleatory as their inverse, that is, expressions of the wholeness and unity of being.[12]

In Voyage to Italy Rossellini's use of temps mort reaches a new level of complexity and suggestiveness, but develops clearly from the experiments undertaken in the uncut Italian version of Stromboli . In the much-remarked opening scene, for example, when we first see the Joyces driving along the highway toward Naples, the boredom is palpable. The car's engine hums soporifically, a train speeds in the opposite direction; immediately following the credits we have cut quickly


to a train whistle that suddenly rends the image. Jose Guarner has described this sequence well: "This rather long-held image of reality . . . give[s] a curious feeling of continuance, as if the film had begun a lot earlier. We are not present at the opening of a story, merely coming in on something that was already going on, as we do in real life. Viaggio in Italia is also a film about time and duration."[13]

Seven years after the film was first released, Pierre Marcabru wrote in Arts that in this film the characters exist for themselves, not for the cinema, and thus proclaim a new cinema of immobility: "In the immobile and the insignificant is the very power of life."[14] Similarly, Leprohon explains why this kind of film is preferable to

those which rivet us to our seats with suspense or the more elementary emotions. "Spectator involvement" is really a shoddy aim, and for its victim a second-rate satisfaction. The greatest literature sets up a resonance extending far beyond the immediate illusion that it creates; and the best films are those that have us accompany the characters as their friends rather than step into their shoes.[15]

Detail is built slowly, as when the couple is taken on a tour of the Neapolitan villa they have inherited from their uncle Homer. At first the time spent on the tour seems wasted. It is only later, as we shall see, when the stability and presence of the house are implicitly contrasted with the forever-moving automobile with which the Joyces surround themselves, that we realize the significance of this temps mort that almost any other director would have summarized with a series of quick cuts. It is also clear that Rossellini knew just what he was doing. In the interview with Pio Baldelli and his students in 1971, he referred obliquely to this sequence, linking it in an unexpected and not entirely clear way to his later films:

If I don't live in the context of things, of everything, I can't arrive at those key points. . . . I've moved into the didactic phase in a very . . . it was continually showing signs of itself, for finally it was a need of mine that I hadn't identified very well. But do you remember, for example, Viaggio in Italia? Well, I had to do that long walk inside the house, seeing things, which everybody scolded me for. . . . Now, if this weren't there, if this milieu weren't there, how would you get to everything else? You wouldn't. If she [mistakenly "he" in the interview] hadn't gone through all those rooms, she wouldn't have gotten to the museum; if she hadn't gone to the museum, she wouldn't have gotten to the discovery of the bodies, she wouldn't have gotten to . . . she can't get there, because she could only have gotten there in that way, by means of . . . the improbable" [ellipses in original].[16]

Little is explained in this film. For example, when Katherine goes out for her first drive alone in Naples, reactions to what she sees play across her face, but only occasionally, when it is thematically pertinent, does the director actually show us in a countershot what she is looking at. Again, he is breaking one of the cardinal rules of "good" filmmaking, but the effect is to enhance the sense of waiting and the ever-fluttering possibility of a sudden outbreak of the unexpected. In any case, her reaction is more important than what she reacts to. At


the same time, however, Rossellini's documentary interest, as in earlier films, is strong, and he also wants to show the "reality" of Naples itself. He knows, however, that this "reality" is not available except through the consciousness of the characters, who thus mimic the director's own mediation. Bazin has described this dynamic well, because it fits so neatly into a phenomenological paradigm of the intentionality of consciousness. For him, the reality of Naples, as presented in the film, is incomplete, yet whole at the same time: "It is a Naples as filtered through the consciousness of the heroine. If the landscape is bare and confined, it is because the consciousness of an ordinary bourgeoise itself suffers from great spiritual poverty. Nevertheless, the Naples of the film is not false. . . . It is rather a mental landscape at once as objective as a straight photograph and as subjective as pure personal consciousness."[17]

This play of the objective and the subjective also reappears at the level of character identification: As Leprohon has told us, we accompany the figures rather than "become" them, and, as in Stromboli , Rossellini refuses to allow us the luxury of facile moral judgments in favor of one character over another. Most critics have assumed that Katherine is the aggrieved party, the clear victim of Alex's callous devotion to work and making money, but this may be because what are considered typically "male" faults of cruelty and violence are expressed in more obviously obnoxious ways. Bergman's traditional association with "good-girl" parts may also be a factor here. Most important, of course, is the fact that the narrative unrolls, basically, from Katherine's point of view. Yet, somehow Rossellini successfully mounts a subtle balancing act in which now one has the moral and emotional power advantage, now the other. The closely related communication theme is also stated in a couple of obvious scenes of mutual miscomprehension, but it moves beyond Stromboli in that now words are used as weapons, or to prevent communication. As Leo Braudy has aptly put it: "Voyage in Italy contains some of the most abrasive scenes between a man and a woman that have ever been filmed. But it is an abrasion of boredoms, spawned by the inconsequential, space-filling dialogue that will be echoed in Antonioni's L'Avventura ."[18]

At the first party they attend, Katherine is jealous over the attention Alex is paying to some of their young female acquaintances. At a later party given by Uncle Homer's aristocratic friends, Alex resents the obvious good time Katherine seems to be having, surrounded by admiring Italian men. During an early dinner scene, they seem on the verge of achieving reconciliation, and a chance word, an ungenerously interpreted phrase, sets them going at one another again. (Alex has suggested, in what seems to be good faith, that they try to enjoy themselves on their vacation, but Katherine responds with a curt, "If we don't enjoy ourselves it will be your fault.") Near the very end of the film, our sympathies perhaps begin to move more strongly toward Katherine as she assaults Alex's coldness again and again, only to be rebuffed. (Though it is a testimony to the film's unconventional handling of emotional dynamics that some critics have taken it for granted that it is Katherine who is being most difficult by the end.) When they do finally have their problematic rapprochement during the epiphanic finale—which will be discussed later—Alex's fear that Katherine will "take advantage" of him if he says he loves her makes it clear, in retrospect, that


The director coaches his wife for the solitaire scene in  Voyage to Italy  (1953).


he has been resistant because he fears becoming vulnerable. In this case, we believe Katherine is sincere, for we can see her expression, but Alex has been refusing to look at her.

The most perfectly balanced sequence, however, a marvel of suggestion, occurs at Alex's return from Capri. Katherine has been waiting up for him, playing solitaire, hoping that he would return that evening. But when she hears his car pull up, she must immediately turn out the light and pretend to be asleep so that she will not in any way put herself at an emotional disadvantage. What follows is a subtle, but riveting, series of intercuts on her immobile face in the shadows as she registers and absorbs every sound he makes, her eyes darting everywhere. The petty noises—his gargling, for example—seem abnormally loud and penetrating, at least partly because they have been foregrounded by the nearly static visual track. An elaborate choreography follows of lights being turned on and off, as each fears giving an inch.[19]

Far more is at stake between Katherine and Alex, however, than their own emotional problems. For they also represent opposing sets of abstractions, neither of which we are meant to view favorably. (This, of course, is another reason why Rossellini does little or nothing to sketch in their past lives for us, or to define them in terms of personal idiosyncrasy.) Neither is a complete human being; they are parts of a whole, and thus the distortions of humanity decried by Nietzsche's Zarathustra. Alex clearly stands for a soulless materialism that, as we have seen in Europa '51 and other films, was for Rossellini the chief evil of postwar European society. Alex is constantly thinking of his business affairs and worrying about the time he is wasting while in Italy, a country he views as the epitome of laziness and lack of industry. Katherine, however, represents an equally untenable spiritualism that is reflected in her idealization of her romantic poet friend Charles Lewington. He served in the British army near Naples and had written her about the city. As Alex nastily points out to Katherine, her visit to Italy has become a kind of spiritual pilgrimage to reevoke Charles' presence in the locations he had written about. As the couple sits in the hot Neapolitan sun, she intones from Charles' poetry: "Temple of the spirit, no longer bodies, but ascetic images, compared to which mere thought seems flesh, heavy, dim." Alex, his jealousy aroused like that of Gabriel Conroy in James Joyce's story "The Dead," from which Rossellini has borrowed,[20] says that he learned from Lewington that a man's cough can tell you more than the way he speaks.

KATHERINE: What did Charles' cough tell you?

ALEX: That he was a fool.

KATHERINE (getting angry): He was not a fool! He was a poet!

ALEX: What's the difference?[21]

As the film progresses, we realize that Katherine, at least, is learning from her contact with the Italian environment that is so foreign to both of them. She gradually becomes less romantically caught up in her poet's otherworldliness, for the forceful realities of her Neapolitan experiences begin to call her to the world. After being exposed to those things that Charles had written about—especially the powerful rawness of the statuary in the Naples museum—she begins to realize that his aestheticism was a projection of his own personality rather than a de-


scription of Italy. She admits to Alex, "Poor Charles, he had a way all his own of seeing things." This progression on her part also serves to bring us closer to her (there is no equivalent learning by her husband), but her recognition and overcoming of an excessive, crippling spirituality is only part of the process.

It is more than hinted that Katherine's problems are also sexual in nature; the penchant for spiritualizing her relationship with Charles is an obvious function of her presumed frigidity. But if we can fault Rossellini for having recourse to this sexist stereotype, it must also be said that this subject is implied rather than overtly thematized. Thus, when Katherine goes to the museum early in the film, she is overwhelmed; her guide's homely, banal chatter only serves to counterpoint the raw violence of these startling nude marble figures. They serve the additional function of representing a presumably more healthy and innocent past civilization, as when Irene and the Communist Andrea visit the Campidoglio in Europa '51 , a motif that Godard borrowed in Contempt . (To point up his various borrowings, Godard has his characters at one point watch Voyage to Italy .) Her encounter with the statues is turned into a series of profound, almost physical, confrontations with them, and the obviously foregrounded movements of the camera—all fast crane shots that whirl as they move closer, worthy of the most choreographed moments in Ophüls—bring her into a forced proximity with the statues that is clearly threatening. As Michael Shedlin has correctly pointed out, most of the crane shots in the museum include Katherine and the statues in the same shot, as opposed to all the previous point-of-view shots that have kept her visually, and thus psychologically, dissociated from what she is seeing and experiencing.[22] Deeply moved by this encounter with the overtly physical, sexual presence of the past, she later confesses to Alex, "What struck me was the complete lack of modesty with which everything is expressed. There was absolutely no attempt—" At this point she is interrupted by a knock at the door, and the subject is never brought up again. Later, when she is touring the ancient site of the Cumaean Sybil, the old and presumably harmless guide demonstrates to her how marauders of the past would have tied up a "beautiful woman" like her. She huffs away, muttering, "All men are alike," and the bewildered reaction of the guide indicates that at least in Italian, male terms, her response was not appropriate. The last hint of the sexual theme comes at the end of the film when Katherine is trying to identify aloud the source of the animosity between her and Alex. She suggests that "perhaps the mistake in our marriage was not having a child," and Alex responds that she did not want one, and now he thinks that she was right, because it would only have made their impending divorce more painful.

If sexual frigidity is only suggested in the film, however, the Joyces' childlessness is more overtly linked with the poverty of their lives, but as symptom rather than cause. Superficial interpretations of the film have complained that because Katherine is constantly seeing pregnant women in her outings and because their friend Natalia is praying for a child, what Rossellini, in effect, is suggesting is that the couple's problems would be solved if only Katherine surrendered herself to her proper biological role (or fate). It is rather more complicated than that, finally, but to understand how, we have to probe more deeply into the dynamics of conflict in the film.


What rules Voyage to Italy is environment. Like Thomas Hardy's fictional Wessex, it becomes a powerful third character in the film, and its name is Italy. Most baldly stated, the film is about Katherine and Alex's confrontation with this otherness so utterly opposed to everything they know and understand. Where Alex is materialistic and superrational and Katherine is, initially, at any rate, overly aesthetic and otherworldly, Italy is sensual and earthbound. It might be argued, of course, that Rossellini is merely glorifying and idealizing his native land: if all those cold foreigners could only experience the warmth and carefree joy of Italy (and have lots of babies), their problems would be solved. What is important to understand, however, is the precise way in which a Mediterranean system of values is being touted over the coldness the northerners bring with them.

In many ways, the film could be included in the genre of "road films," given the massive, continual presence of their car (which I want to explore in more detail in a moment) and the theme of a hostile environment that makes one reassess one's most deeply held values and convictions. When on the road, you are vulnerable, and so are the Joyces. The undeniable presence of Italy, both physical and psychological, constantly forces itself into their consciousness, in spite of their desire to conduct their business as quickly as possible and escape back to England. They wrestle with their pasta, they do not know enough to take a siesta (and do not ask), they expect everyone to know English. After they eat, all the "garlic and onions" give Alex a thirst that he can not quench. He complains about the driving, about the rampant laziness; at the party given by Uncle Homer's aristocratic friends, the Joyces learn about "dolce far niente" (how sweet it is to do nothing), a concept totally alien to their Protestant souls. Uncle Homer, unlike the Joyces, was fully inserted into Italian life, and his friends miss him deeply. An even more important foil to the deadness and vicious advantage-seeking of the Joyces is the couple with whom they have most contact, Tony Burton (a fellow Englishman) and his Italian wife, Natalia. Here, North and South (which, as we saw in Stromboli , Rossellini always felt was the true division of the world, rather than East and West) are happily joined. Both husband and wife speak the other's language, and their relationship appears rewarding. They seem to embody that harmony of body, mind, and spirit that the film locates in classical civilization and continues to offer as a cure for present-day ills.

"Italy," the enemy, constantly intrudes upon the Joyces, in countless details, in nearly every frame. The Neapolitan singing that accompanies the opening credits is heard again and again, acting as the symbolic, but palpable, presence of Italy, occupying a sound track that constantly presses against a visual track concerned chiefly with the British couple. While they sit out on the roof of the villa drinking wine instead of taking a siesta like everyone else (with Katherine "shielding" herself from the Italian sun by wearing dark glasses), we see the symbolically suggestive Vesuvius volvano in deep focus in the background of the same shot.[23] Italy also intrudes in the form of sleep, about which much is made in the film. Both Katherine and Alex exclaim at different moments, "How well one sleeps here! Natalia tells Katherine at another moment that she should let Alex sleep because "sleep is always good for one." The laziness of Italy,


anathema to the businesslike Joyces, has begun insidiously to affect them as well.

Probably the most important symbolic motif that furthers this conflict between Italy and the Joyces is their car, so obviously and continuously present. With its prominently displayed British license plates, it represents that combination of mind-set and ideology known as England, which naturally they bring with them to Italy. It is where we initially see them, in this little bit of England pushing through a foreign land, and we understand seconds later that the very first shots we see have been taken through the car's windshield and side window, suggesting the inevitable construction of reality through one's own particular culture. The car comfortably envelops them and protects them, initially at least, from the influence of this strange country. Appropriately, it offers a cold and mechanical contrast to everything organic and living that we see throughout the film (in the very beginning, for example, they force their way through a lazy herd of sheep). Later, it sticks out blatantly among the ruins of Pompeii.

This thematic use of the automobile also explains, in retrospect, the earlier, lengthy tour of Uncle Homer's villa, for the villa functions as the symbolically static opposite of the Joyce's car, as an overt manifestation of Uncle Homer's organic participation in Italian life. Similarly, at various points throughout the film, a slow (often panning) establishing shot on the stolid villa, which begins a scene, reminds us subtly of its symbolic role, opposing the ceaseless, frenetic movement of the automobile. When Katherine makes her trips into Naples, she can only grumble about how selfish and unfeeling Alex is, for as long as she is in the car, she is enveloped in her own miserable, little existence and its multiple blind spots. But, like Alex and Katherine themselves, the automobile is not impervious to Italy's influence, and the environment continues to assault Katherine through the windshield. Yet it is only when she actually gets out of the car—at the "little Vesuvio," the museum, the Cumaean Sybil, at Pompeii, and at the end of the film—that she becomes truly affected by what she experiences. Similarly, when Alex improbably has the car after his return from Capri, he picks up a prostitute. Until this point, he has remained rather shielded, unlike Katherine, but when the woman invades his physical and psychological territory by entering the car, she brings with her the messiness of life in the tragic story she recounts.

But what exactly does this continual presence of Italy stand for? Clearly it is not to be taken as the fulfillment of some tourist-brochure writer's fantasies about sun and fun. It does, of course represent a greater openness to sensuality and emotion, and a greater connection with what we might call the fecundity of life, but it stands just as closely to death. Italy is seen in this film as a place where one is more consciously aware of life and death: because life is contingent, and death holds final sway, life itself, as Heidegger claimed, is enhanced in value and intensity by an awareness of death. What the Joyces need is not to have babies (or not only to have babies), but to be snapped out of the abstraction their lives have become, linked as they are only with the conventional, decentered signs of money and the other intangibles that modern life substitutes for directly lived experience. Thus, while it is true that in one of her drives through Naples, Katherine is overwhelmed by the number of babies and


pregnant women she sees, her first experience of the city stresses a funeral carriage and numerous black-edged announcements of local deaths. In Naples, as the epigraph to this chapter suggests, one is even closer to death than in the rest of Italy, and Rossellini delighted in telling interviewers, when discussing this film, how Neapolitan black marketeers spend the first big money they make one elaborately decorated coffins rather than on food and clothing. Natalia takes Katherine to visit the catacombs; the English woman is shaken by this place drenched with mortality and overflowing with skulls, and cannot understand why anyone would adopt a dead person to "take care of." Poor Alex cannot pick up a prostitute without her instantly beginning to tell him of a friend's recent suicide and her own temptations in that direction. In the interview with Aprà and Ponzi, Rossellini insisted:

[Katherine] is always quoting a so-called poet who describes Italy as a country of death—imagine, Italy a country of death! Death doesn't exist here, because—it's so much a living thing that they put garlands on the heads of dead men. There is a different meaning to things here. To them death has an archeological meaning, to us it is a living reality. It's a different kind of civilisation.[24]

The death theme reaches its dramatic climax—a "climax" that is characteristically understated—in the magnificent scene that takes place at Pompeii. Seconds after Katherine and Alex's most bitter argument, which has ended in a decision to get a divorce, their host Tony comes to collect them and insists that they go with him to the digs. The archaeologists have come upon a hollow in the ground, which usually indicates a place where people were caught and instantly killed in the great eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Their emotions rubbed raw, the Joyces beg off the visit, but Tony insists that it is the chance of a lifetime and that they must come with him. Unable to refuse, the distraught couple accompanies Tony to the site, where the workers are to pour fresh plaster of Paris down into the hollow through small holes they have drilled. As the rather bizarre musical theme picks up (a theme we have already heard during Katherine's other wanderings through history and the strange spots of Naples) and then modulates into a tense, tragic, bitter melody, dirt is scraped off the hardened plaster. One by one, body parts are revealed. The parts begin to form themselves into a man and a woman; death has caught them making love, or at least wrapped tightly in each other's arms. Suddenly, the museum, the catacombs, and the Cumaean Sybil all come together in one startling image: the physicality and rawness of the ancient world, the ubiquity of death in life, and love, however inadequate and flawed, as the only possible solution. At the sight, Katherine breaks down sobbing and rushes away, and Alex moves to help her. Rossellini offers no overt explanation for her reaction. Alex makes the standard excuses to the men on Katherine's behalf, and they prepare to leave. To get back to the protection of their car, they have to traverse what remains of the Roman town, and the effect on us is similar to what Katherine has experienced in the museum. In long shot, we see them move across the barren ruins, once full of life and now so full of death. The tragic musical theme intensifies, and


Love, death, and Italy: the Joyces (Bergman and George Sanders)
amid the ruins of Pompeii in  Voyage to Italy .

the effect is truly moving. Finally, the emotional encounter seems to have had a positive effect on both of them. Alex ventures: "You know, I understand how you feel. I was pretty moved myself. But you must try to pull yourself together." Hopeful, she responds, "Oh, did it effect you the same way? . . . I've seen so many strange things today that I didn't have the time to tell you about. . . . There are many things I didn't tell you." She begins to apologize for their earlier argument, but Alex, perhaps assuming that she is only trying to trap him, rebuffs her: "Why? Our situation is quite clear. We've made our decision. You don't have to make any excuses." She hardens herself, and when Alex taunts her once again about her dead poet, she shouts, "Oh, stop it! Must you continue to harp on it? I'm sick and tired of your sarcasm. We've decided to get a divorce and that settles it!" They continue picking their way through the ruins, and suddenly the musical theme turns black. At this point, Katherine stops and utters the most convincing, devastating line of the entire film: "Life is so short!" The realization of death's ubiquity has completely overwhelmed her, given the "many strange things" she has been seeing all day, but there seems no way out of their endless bickering and advantage seeking. Alex replies ambiguously, "That's why one should make the most of it." The camera follows


them for a long time in an utterly desolate long shot, until they reach their car.

Immediately after, we hear the joyful bounce of parade music and cut to Katherine and Alex, once again safely ensconced in the automobile, as they fight their way out of Naples. This is the final scene, the most controversial of the film. As we initially located them moving toward the city in the car, we now see them moving away. The circle seems to be complete, and while the constant presence of Italy has forced them to confront the emptiness of their married life together, it has yet to effect any internal changes, at least that we can see. But one does not go through such intense emotional encounters and emerge unchanged. Subtle influences are working on them without their knowledge.

They have wandered into the middle of a huge religious process in honor of San Gennaro, from whom Neapolitans virtually demand a miracle each year during his festival, as Rossellini told Truffaut and Rohmer in 1954. Horns blow and confusion reigns as the couple picks over the remains of their marriage. Katherine, who has been more deeply affected, seems to seek a reconciliation, but Alex, suspicious, continues to reject her advances. When he says it is lucky they have no children because "it would make the divorce even more painful," she jumps on this: "Painful? Is it going to be painful for you?" "Well, more complicated" is his cold response. They continue to push their huge British car through the crowd (and the claustrophobic visual effect is enhanced by the complete avoidance of long shots), cold steel against human flesh and religious emotion, and ultimately they are forced to halt. The car is eaten up by the wave of humanity, by Italy, the way water rushes over a seemingly immovable obstacle and carries it away. Attention shifts to the parade, which we watch for a while, until Alex, still seemingly unaffected by his Italian experience, says: "How can they believe in that? They're like a bunch of children!" She replies softly: "Children are happy." Then she suddenly blurts out, "Alex, I don't want you to hate me. I don't want it to finish in this way." And Alex replies with lines that make his resistance more understandable and that again right the emotional balance between them: "Oh, Katherine, what are you driving at? What game are you trying to play? You've never understood me, you've never even tried. And now this nonsense. What is it you want? "Nothing," she spits out at him. "I despise you."

Then the significant moment: they decide to get out of their car, away from the protection of their lifeless culture. Instantly the crowd begins shouting, "Miracolo! Miracolo!" ; and though we cannot actually see anything—perhaps appropriate for a modern-day "miracle"—the immense crowd rushes forward, taking Katherine along with them. The shot is visually brilliant: the crowd moving powerfully ahead, away from us, Katherine pulled with them, fighting the emotional wave of the Italians, but turned back toward us and Alex, screaming wildly for help.[25] For once the sheer violent press of life forces them out of the sealed intellectual realm they have wanted to keep to, and into the swirling world of the emotions. Katherine needs Alex, suddenly, on a brute existential level that is apparently new to them. Alex rescues her, and the film cuts to a closer shot of them—the northern giants surrounded by the Neapolitan pygmies—as they clasp each other in their arms (like the Pompeian lovers):


KATHERINE: Oh, I don't want to lose you. (They embrace )

ALEX: Katherine, what's wrong with us? Why do we torture one another?

KATHERINE: When you say things that hurt me, I try to hurt you back, don't you see, but I can't any longer, because I love you.

ALEX: Perhaps we get hurt too easily.

KATHERINE: Tell me that you love me.

ALEX: Well, if I do, will you promise not to take advantage of me?

KATHERINE: Oh, yes, but I want to hear you say it.

ALEX: All right, I love you.

The camera at last pans away from them, resting a long time on the anonymous faces in the crowd, transfixed by the miracle they have just seen; it finally moves to an enigmatic one-shot of a single member of the band. As we, too, struggle to reconcile ourselves to the miracle we have just witnessed, the film ends.

The familiar Rossellini pattern is there: the sudden, cathartic, epiphanic moment of grace when all is righted (or in some films, where the point of tragedy is stated), a technique that goes back at least to Open City and the quick, ironic epiphanies of Paisan . The scene most closely resembles the "miraculous" ending of Stromboli , of course; there we saw the giving over of self to God through a primitive religious emotion, and here the giving of self to another person through the catalyst of the religious emotion of others. But if critics have been unconvinced by the ending of the earlier film, they have been even more vociferously disappointed by the ending of Voyage to Italy . What does it mean? Can we believe it? What has happened to alter the emotional pattern of years? Most critics have refused to accept the couple's reconciliation at face value and have seen it as either completely unconvincing or at best a momentary rapprochement that will shortly break down (Truffaut's view at the time). Rossellini himself had a complex opinion concerning the ending, which makes it seem even denser than that of Stromboli . He told Aprà and Ponzi:

What the finale shows is sudden, total isolation. . . . Unfortunately it's not as if every act of our lives is based on reason. I think everyone acts under the impulse of the emotions as much as under the impulse of intelligence. There's always an element of chance in life—this is just what gives life its beauty and fascination. There's no point in trying to theorise it all. It struck me that the only way a rapprochement could come about was through the couple finding themselves complete strangers to everyone else. You feel a terrible stranger in every way when you find yourself alone in a sea of people of a different height. It's as if you were naked. It's logical that someone who finds himself naked should try to cover himself up.

Q: So is it a false happy ending?

A: It is a very bitter film basically. The couple take refuge in each other in the same way as people cover themselves when they're seen naked, grabbing a towel, drawing closer to the person with them, and covering themselves any old how. This is the meaning the finale was meant to have.[26]

But this does not mean that their gesture is any less genuine for being instinctive; in fact, it seems more so, and it is significant that Rossellini does not explicitly agree that it is "a false happy ending." We might also say that the very unbelievability of the ending is itself thematic, as we saw with aspects of


Francesco , because it is not logical—that function of almighty reason that Rossellini, whose views changed drastically in the fifteen years between film and interview, now wants to credit above all. (Note that at this point he says that "unfortunately" not everything in life is based on reason.)

However one might want to read the ending, it was not the only thing in the film that displeased its initial reviewers, and like the other two major Bergman collaborations, it was a failure both critically and financially. The French, however, who, along with the Americans, had discovered Open City for Italian critics, were immediately more sensitive to its subtleties. The Eighth International Session of Film awarded it a prize as best film of the season; significantly, the judges were Jean cocteau, Abel Gance, and Jean Renoir. Also, the group of young cinephiles who had begun to form around the journal Cahiers du cinéma thought the film immensely powerful. For them, it perfectly embodied their desire for a personal style of filmmaking that was beginning to be known as la politique des auteurs . They also saw that its narrative and technical unconventionality pointed toward new possibilities beyond Hollywood.[27] Jean-Luc Godard, still five years from the making of his first feature, enthused:

In the history of cinema, there are five or six films that one wants to write about simply by saying "It's the most beautiful film ever made." Because there's no greater praise. Why should one speak any further of Taboo , of Viaggio in Italia , and of The Golden Coach? Like a starfish which opens and closes, these films can offer and hide the secret of a world of which they are at the same time the sole depository and the fascinating reflection.[28]

In the April 1955 issue of Cahiers du cinéma , Jacques Rivette said this of the film: "And there we are . . . cowering in the dark, holding our breath, our glance suspended on the screen which grants us such privileges: to spy on our neighbor with the most shocking indiscretion, to violate with impunity the physical intimacy of human beings, subjected without knowing it to our passionate watching; and, at the same time, the immediate rape of the soul.[29] Above all, these critics were struck by the film's novelty. In the same article, Rivette said, "It seems impossible to me to see Viaggio in Italia without experiencing, like a whip, the fact that this film opens a breech that the entire cinema must pass through under pain of death." Patrice Hovald expressed the phenomenological sense of direct, originary meaning most forcefully, calling it "the first film of a cinema which has not yet been created, because it seems like the first film which does not exist as a function of the others, but which, taking its own meaning from itself, thus finds its unique dignity."[30]

But even if one is unable to share the rhetoric of complete originality articulated by the film's early French supporters, it is still possible to see in it a remarkable shift in filmmaking practice. In its "free style," in Gianni Rondolino's words, one can glimpse the films of Antonioni and Godard and all the others that were to come in the sixties.

The mixture of genres, or the coexistence in a single work of narrative, dramatic, lyric, documentary, and essayistic elements, involves a kind of aesthetic "disharmony" . . . which opens the work beyond a more or less rigid structure. Then, this very placement of narrative and dramatic elements in the


finished structure of the film, with its frequent stylistic jumps, its unusual alternations, its formal carelessness, demands a lack of cohesion among its parts which favor the freedom of observation and the personal choice of the spectator. Finally and above all, the images and the dialogue are offered as "proposals" and not as "solutions."[31]

And in this new freedom of observation, it seems that Rossellini has finally fulfilled the hopes of André Bazin, not just on the level of the image or sequence, beyond which the French critic seemed unable to theorize, but on the more inclusive level of the film itself.


Three Sketches:
"L'Invidia," "Ingrid Bergman," and "Napoli '43"

Along with feature-length films, Rossellini was also making sketches in the early fifties—fifteen- or twenty-minute "short stories" that formed parts of longer films. At the time, the episode film made by four, five, or six different directors was enjoying a great vogue (Rossellini was also involved in one called Rogopag as late as 1962), but, mercifully perhaps, no longer seems to be very popular. Presumably, the idea was that with more stars and more big-name directors, box-office appeal would be heightened, but few directors took the genre very seriously.

Nor, unfortunately, did the public. Consequently, all three of the sketch films that Rossellini participated in during the early fifties are either difficult to locate or have disappeared altogether. I have only been able to see the "Ingrid Bergman" sketch, from Siamo donne (We, the Women, 1952). This sketch, regarded by everybody (including its star and its director) "more or less as a joke," actually contains, for all its brevity and lack of seriousness, important thematic resonances that make it worth discussing. First, however, an attempt should be made, via the few critics who have seen the other two sketches, to outline their subjects and their place in Rossellini's overall canon.

Exact chronology differs in the major Rossellini filmographies, but most seem to agree that all three shorts were made between Francesco (1950) and Giovanna d'Arco al rogo (1954), in the following order: "L'invidia" ("Envy," part of I sette peccati capitali or Les Sept Péchés capitaux [The Seven Deadly Sins] filmed in October 1951); "Ingrid Bergman," which, according to her autobiography, was shot in the summer of 1952, and therefore between Dov'è la libertà? and Voyage to Italy; and finally, "Napoli '43," filmed in late 1953 after


Voyage to Italy and before Giovanna , as part of the film Amori di mezzo secolo (Mid-Century Loves).

The first, "L'invidia," was loosely based on Colette's short novel "La Chatte" (The Cat), which perhaps explains Rossellini's subsequent interest in doing a film with Bergman and Sanders based on her novel Duo . In "La Chatte," a young woman, jealous of the affection her artist husband lavishes on his cat, kills it by throwing it out the window. An early reviewer for Cahiers du cinéma found the entire film banal and clichéd, complained about the poor dubbing of the two Italian sketches into French, and otherwise said nothing about Rossellini's piece.[1] (This film appeared just prior to Cahiers' "rediscovery" of Rossellini.) Massimo Mida continued to express his disgust with the Rossellini of the "crisis" years, calling "L'invidia" "nothing more than an intellectual game without purpose, a piece of useless tinsel which clashes with his masterpieces."[2] In Verdone's somewhat more favorable view, the episode is a "subtle psychological conflict, though somewhat stretched," but he also felt that its "psychological mechanism" was not "perfectly regulated."[3]

Looking back a few years after their rediscovery of the director, however, the French came to think very highly of the sketch. Godard, for one, put it at the same level as "Ingrid Bergman," claiming that both sketches are the best things in their respective films: "Because Rossellini didn't try to provoke an artificial suspense by following the threads of an equally artificial plot; he contented himself with merely 'showing' a feeling without trying to analyze it, because if he would have done that, he would have filmed Europa '51 or Fear ."[4] The ebullient Patrice Hovald went so far as to proclaim it an "absolute masterpiece" and a "modern classic of art." For him, it clearly takes its place with "the other five 'mediocre films' of Rossellini's which are going to change the face of cinema." Hovald found it especially interesting because, like the Bergman films, it takes as its subject "woman, one member of the couple; femininity and its behavior; her fundamental opposition to man; the beginning of misunderstanding; her guilt—and carries to its peak the genius of style. We are on that infallible track which leads, from masterpiece to masterpiece, to India ."[5] In the absence of the film itself, we can only guess whether this negative essentializing of woman is Hovald's or Rossellini's.

The third of these three sketches, "Napoli '43"—most conveniently considered at this point—is one that no critic, with the exception of Jose Guarner, has mentioned even in passing. According to the "Documentazione" of Aprà and Ponzi, all the episodes of Amori di mezzo secolo were scripted by the same four writers (Oreste Biancoli, Giuseppe Mangione, Vinicio Marinucci, and Rodolfo Sonego), which makes it different from most sketch films popular at the time, though not unique. Here Rossellini was teamed with successful, if second-level, directors like Glauco Pellegrini, Mario Chiari, and, especially, Pietro Germi and Antonio Pietrangelo, but again, the film failed. One contemporary review that appeared in Rassegna del film said that Rossellini's bittersweet treatment of a young soldier and a debutant actress falling in love at first sight in a Naples bomb shelter (only to be killed by a bomb at the end) was not all that bad. The reviewer had especially kind words for the "real-life" portrayal of the old men who sell


coffee and candy in the shelter, but felt that the main characters were not seen in any depth, the plot lacked dramatic development, and the ending was hurried and unconvincing.[6] These judgments can be taken at face value, of course, but, interestingly, the enumerated "faults" are exactly those that most contemporary reviewers found in Voyage to Italy and the other Bergman films.

Given the paucity of critical accounts of this sketch, then, we must turn to Guarner as our sole source of information. For him, its chief interest lies in the combination of the realistic portrayal of Naples under a bombing attack and the fantasy of the story itself, a combination that, though he does not say it, links it directly to earlier films like La macchina ammazzacattivi and Dov'è la libertà? in their unsteady, but fascinating, mixture of stylization and the real. Guarner sees the story as part of the tradition of courtly love, offering us "a quiet variation on several well-loved themes, a bitter-sweet, rather distant evocation—in a way, his Les Visiteurs du soir ."[7] The sketch is also Rossellini's first return to the heroic days of the war, the subject of his greatest successes, and anticipates his largely cynical "comeback," some five years later, with war films like Generale della Rovere and Era notte a Roma .

The most theoretically interesting of these sketches is the one the director did of his wife for Siamo donne in 1952. Like most of the other Rossellini films of this period, it has had an especially negative critical reception, when it has been considered at all. Borde and Bouissy complained, not without reason, that in it Bergman "makes a fool of herself,"[8] and Mida called it "a rather insignificant fragment of no interest or importance."[9] John Minchinton, writing in Films and Filming at the time the film appeared, was equally critical, specifically branding Bergman's "an embarrassing performance." A few sentences further on, however, we realize that something has caught his attention, for he notes that the final effect is rather interesting because "in showing the actress as a person, [it] reveals the actress as an actress."[10] In other words, though the film is virtually worthless if looked at in conventional terms, it is redeemed by the continuing problematization of the relation between realism and reality that we have seen at work in so many other Rossellini films.

Bergman has said, "The whole thing was made more or less as a joke. It was considered to be made for charity."[11] Rossellini has seconded her opinion, calling it "just a piece of fun. It was almost all improvised. It's not something that really happened, but it's true to life."[12] The other segments of Siamo donne , directed by Alfredo Guarini (who seems to have been responsible for the overall project), Gianni Franciolini, Luigi Zampa, and Luchino Visconti, are, in fact, much more narratively conventional than Rossellini's. These segments, which feature Alida Valli, Isa Miranda, and, interestingly for the film's inner emotional dynamics, Anna Magnani, are rather lighthearted (with the exception of Zampa's), but nevertheless "well made," tightly scripted and relatively clear-cut and unproblematic in execution. Rossellini's, on the other hand, is the only segment in which the illusion is broken, and the actress/person speaks directly to the audience, through the camera, as "herself" (a construct more complicated than it looks). Not only does Bergman's direct address to us destroy any possibility of our giving ourselves innocently to the fiction, but the actress also


comments directly upon the story "within," which concerns a neighbor's chicken who eats Bergman's roses and against whom Bergman sets her dog. In effect, then, the film provides its own narrator, who comments directly upon the tale she is about to tell, calling it a "ridiculous story" and putting herself in a complex position both in and out of the narrative. (But which narrative?) The first-person form has commonly been accommodated in the cinema, of course, but principally as disembodied sound in voice-over (as with Magnani in Visconti's segment); here the voice becomes visualized, as it were, the direct presence of the actress. And while the inner story is played straight (that is without illusion-breaking asides to the camera), it is a fictional story ("It's not something that really happened") about the real person named Ingrid Bergman, played, naturally, by Bergman herself. It also attempts, in its own small way, to name an essence: "But it's true to life." The inner story also contains another woman, an actress, who, unlike Bergman, plays the neighbor according to the conventionalized system of character representation, rather than as herself. The illusion of the inner story, however, is itself broken by a wipe back to the narrator's "present" situation, the Rossellinis' summer home, the same location of the inner tale, and from which that inner tale is being created or repeated. In the outer tale, then, the home is real, while in the inner tale, the same home is a fictional set.

So the "joke" is a bit more complicated than it seems. Its complexity relates clearly to Rossellini's earlier film Una voce umana , which, as we saw, the director described as a "documentary about Anna Magnani." Both films manage to problematize the difference between actress and role, inevitably raising questions concerning the boundaries between such dualities. Can either term exist alone? Again, too, reality and realism clash and merge, merge and clash, both ending up hopelessly confused. All of the actresses in the different episodes of Siamo donne , in fact, are reenacting supposedly "true-life" happenings from their own lives. The stories are populated by actors, both professional ones playing specific characters not themselves and nonprofessional ones playing themselves rather than the real people of the original incident in the actress's real life. The situation grows more complex when one realizes that, though the stories present themselves as being invented by the actresses, the real inventors are the directors working at some metalevel above them. What Rossellini has done in his own sketch is to up the stakes further by foregrounding the story's narration as well, thus creating still another level that, even in as slight a tale as this, can suddenly reveal the abyss of representation. It may also be significant that the subject and "script" of Rossellini's sketch are credited to the foremost theoretician of neorealism, Cesare Zavattini, the man responsible for the famous lived-time sequence of the maid in De Sica's Umberto D .

The almost palpable sense of sadism in this sketch must also be mentioned, at least in passing. Bergman is so dreadfully uncomfortable throughout, especially in the narrating frame tale and when she gives chase to the chicken, that the unconscious point of the story seems precisely to make her look silly. Where is Rossellini here? The one large gap that is felt throughout is, in fact, Rossellini (as real person): we see their real villa, we see the real Bergman as herself, we see their real son Robertino as himself, but no Roberto. But just as he


was "present," though unseen, in Una voce umana , he is here as well inscribed in the mode of the film rather than the visual or aural track per se: all, both inner and outer tales, is presumably evolving from his point of view, and his physical absence from the family underlines this fact even more. He is "creating" Ingrid Bergman in the same way that he has created Karin and Irene and Katherine. It is an act of creation with implications, both personal and theoretical, that extend far beyond this little "joke" of a sketch.


Giovanna d'Arco al Rogo

Around this time Rossellini turned, at least partly from financial necessity, to directing theater and opera. His first effort was Verdi's Otello , produced by the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, and it gained him the most acclaim he had had in years. Pasquale di Costanza, the director of the opera company, then asked Rossellini if he would like to do something with Bergman in it, and proposed Paul Claudel and Arthur Honegger's oratorio Jeanne au bûcher (Joan at the Stake), which had originally premiered at Orleans, France on May 6, 1939. Bergman knew the oratorio, as she had been given the recording of it during the production of the Hollywood version of Saint Joan. Rossellini had the records sent to him and began to imagine what he might turn the oratorio into.

His first innovation was a system of rear projection of photographs by means of which the setting could be instantly changed from a church to a landscape. The biggest problem facing the director, however, was that in the original, Joan remains motionless, tied to her stake throughout the entire performance, while dancers and a chorus interpret her memories of childhood and the events leading up to her trial. Characteristically, Rossellini waited until just before rehearsals were scheduled to plan his staging. Bergman tells us in her autobiography that "fortunately for me, Roberto took hardly any notice of Paul Claudel's stage instructions":

And he got what I thought was a brilliant idea. The curtain rises, and another girl, a small child, is tied to the stake at the back, and she is Saint Joan. The flames rise and she is dying; then, out of the darkness I rise up on an elevator to my first position. I'm dressed all in black, only my face showing. That face represents my mind, the mind that can look back at my life and my ex-


Bergman as Joan of Arc at the stake in  Giovanna d'Arco al rogo  (1954).


periences. There are big gangways sloping up here and there, and on one of them I meet Brother Dominique who tells me of what I am accused. Then the gangways are lowered to the floor and I'm free to run around.[1]

The reception of Rossellini's version of the oratorio in Naples, and later at La Scala in Milan, was excellent, and he seemed genuinely pleased with his new métier where "I have accumulated nothing, no past, and everything is new."[2] When the production moved to the Paris Opera House, however, a serious problem arose in the person of Paul Claudel. He had heard of the changes Rossellini had "inflicted" on his oratorio, and even though all the performances were completely sold out, he withdrew his approval at the last minute. Bergman and Rossellini went to see Claudel, who lectured them on the purpose of the oratorio, and how important it was that Joan remain fixed throughout; nevertheless, he was prevailed upon to attend a dress rehearsal before rendering his verdict. At the end of the performance, Joan's final lines echoed through the nearly empty theater: "It is joy that is strong. It is love that is stronger. It is God that is strongest of all." As everyone in the cast waited tensely, Claudel rose slowly and said aloud, "And Ingrid is even stronger." And thus permission was granted to go ahead. Successful engagements followed in London, Barcelona, and Stockholm, though in Sweden, to which Bergman had not returned in sixteen years, a vicious attack was unleashed against her in the media.

It was next decided to put the oratorio on film, though it is not immediately clear why. Bergman told Robin Wood that it was filmed "more or less to have as a souvenir for ourselves," but this seems hard to believe given what it cost to produce this full-length film in color (Rossellini's first), a cost that was never to be recouped. Perhaps Rossellini felt this was his chance to redeem himself, and given his deliberate inattention to Claudel's original design, his remark to a Parisian interviewer at the time of the film's release must strike us as disingenuous (and political): "Since Claudel did the scenario, and not me, I hope that this film marks the reconciliation of the critics with my work. I am a simple man, and I don't want to be a man who's all alone."[3] In any case, the director was pleased with it, and he told Truffaut and Rohmer, interviewing him in 1954 for Cahiers du cinéma , "It's a very strange film; I know that it will be said that my involution has become so extreme that I've gone underground. But it is not at all a filmed play, but a film, and I would even say that it's neorealistic, in the sense that I always sought."[4]

Like his other films of this period, it struck the most sensitive (or most enthusiastic) commentators as evidence of a new order of filmmaking. Truffaut, in a contemporary review in Arts , employed another version of the rhetoric that had been applied so generously to Voyage to Italy a year earlier:

As it's necessary, to appreciate Claudel, to take his words literally, exactly for what they're worth, it's necessary, to like Roberto Rossellini's film, to rediscover the innocence of a spectator seeing the film for the first time. Twenty years of allusive and elliptical cinema, and several thousand films which only exist in terms of each other make a film as elementary as Jeanne au bûcher look like a dangerous and abstract avant-garde enterprise.[5]


Theater Arts magazine at this same time quoted Bergman in a revealing moment of wish fulfillment, the understandable product of many years of coping with Rossellini's unorthodox methods:

I think Roberto has made as great a break with standard technique and style with Joan as he did with Open City . He has changed his way of working, too. For the first time, I think, he carefully planned every step of every shot in great detail. The story and dialogue were there and could not be tampered with. The result was that all his creative energy and talent were concentrated on invention and direction.[6]

Unfortunately, the film fared no better than his other films of the period in finding an audience. The minister of education in France decided to distribute it throughout the country (an interesting foreshadowing of the mass-audience, didactic direction in which Rossellini would move for the first time four years later with India ), but these plans fell through. In fact, the film was never released in France at all, nor anywhere else outside of Italy, and its run there, from September 1954 to August 1955, gained a pitiful 18.5 million lire, barely a quarter of the amount earned by the unsuccessful Voyage to Italy .[7] The film did find a few supporters, but most commentators were negative. Alessandro Ferraù, for example, writing in the February 1955 issue of Bollettino dello spettacolo , gloated: "The film is a big fiasco. . . . What surprises us is that a production company and a distributor even agreed to produce and distribute such a film. It's impossible to guess at what motivated Rossellini's direction . . . but it is undoubtedly harmful, considering the inevitable financial consequences, that such films should be made.[8]

The net effect of this initial hostility and lack of distribution is that all but one of the copies of the film have disappeared. For many years, it was occasionally seen on the art-house circuit in Europe, but no longer. Even as far back as 1958, Patrice Hovald complained about not being part of the "very small number of people who've been at rare, more or less private, projections of the film."[9] As recently as ten or twelve years ago, Baldelli, Rondolino, and Guarner were reporting a copy at the Centro sperimentale di cinematografia, but this copy also seems to have disappeared in the interim, and the authorities there have no record of it. The director of the Cineteca nazionale in Turin told me in 1984 that the only extant print of the film is in their collection, but that it is in such bad condition that it has been screened only once in the last seven or eight years. Since I have been unable to see the film, therefore, the following comments will necessarily be secondhand.

In many ways Giovanna d'Arco al rogo can be seen as a bridge between those films of the late forties and early fifties that purported to be "documentaries of the individual," and the films of the sixties and seventies that use an individual character to anchor the depiction of a specific historical period. Rondolino, for example, links it directly to the later historical figures whose "substantially static nature" becomes "the center around which turn the story, the facts, and the minor characters." He goes on to say:

Joan of Arc is continually surrounded by slow, almost imperceptible movements of the camera, so that the character who is emblematic of a certain hu-


man condition also becomes a symbol of an anthropocentric vision of the world and of history, which, in different ways and in different accents, has already appeared in Rossellini's films. But the stylistic experimentation—the long takes, the slow and frayed editing, the tonal and coloristic relations between the background and the characters, the dramatic and symbolic use of the set design—also becomes a kind of technical essay, an original attempt to solve diverse and often complicated problems of expression.[10]

Guarner's discussion of the film, despite his minority view that it has "no close connection with [Rossellini's] film work or his usual preoccupations," is suggestive. Since the whole film is seen in flashback, as Joan mounts to heaven with Brother Domenico, Guarner suggests that everything in it is thus seen through Joan's point of view; later, he stresses the circles the camera makes around her, especially the "high-angle shot of people forming a ring around Joan" and gingerly offers the "tentative interpretation" that we are seeing Joan through the viewpoint of God and that "the whole film is only the point of view on a point of view."[11] He does not follow up on the implications of this doubled infolding, but it seems related to the self-reflexivity at work in the portraits of Bergman in Siamo donne and of Magnani in Una voce umana .[12]

Probably the most detailed account of the film appeared in the fall of 1962 in a special issue on the subject "Joan of Arc on the Screen" in the French journal Études cinématographiques . Included in the issue were two opposing articles on Rossellini's version. In one article, a more or less conventional Catholic critic objects to the film, and in the other, a critic associated with Cahiers du cinéma replies in vaguely phenomenological terms. It may be useful to summarize them briefly here in order to understand better the critical context for Rossellini's films of this period, something that is always more important on the Continent, of course, than in the Anglo-American world of filmmaking.

In the first article Michel Estève argues that the film is "a scarcely convincing work, in large part mistaken," because in it Rossellini continually opts for the "marvelous" rather than the truly "supernatural." Estève maintains that the oratorio itself was one of Claudel's weaker efforts, and that Rossellini has gone even further in the mistaken direction of the "Christian marvelous," away from "reality." Rossellini's techniques and "gimmicks" do not give us the "authentic supernatural," which is "neither the illusory nor the ordinary. On the contrary, it claims that it is inseparable from the natural and that it conforms to it, but the natural seen under a certain light which one is not used to seeing." Despite its subject, Rossellini does not in this film give us any sense of "the other dimension" of the universe, which is inaccessible to reason but can truly affect our lives, as do Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest and Dreyer's Joan of Arc film. What Rossellini's film lacks is "this union of the supernatural and the everyday, this weight of reality," as well as any sense of transcendence.[13]

The response was written by the director's ardent supporter Claude Beylie. For him, this version is "the most eloquent of all the versions of Joan on the screen, the most ethereal, but which also attaches itself at the same time to the most intimate fibers of the flesh." Beylie asks if "I dare say that we are, with Rossellini, no longer on the level of the flesh, nor of the spirit, nor of the soul, but in a sort of fourth dimension which brings them all together in a vertiginous


maelstrom that I will call the serenity of the abyss?" He sees Joan as directly in line with Rossellini's other suffering heroines; here, too, the camera follows her with cold ferocity. (Beylie's formulation once again raises the significant question of the director's ambivalent depictions of woman as victim, especially since this time she is even burned at the stake.) According to the critic, "Giovanna d'Arco al rogo is really an act of pure contemplation, where the cinematic spectacle is reduced to its simplest expression, its most primitive , in the sense that one says of certain rocks that they are primitive." All that Estève has called banal Beylie sees as "meant to symbolize the mediocrity of earthly instincts" and Estève has missed all that is eternal about her: "Everything happens in reality as if Rossellini had tried to demystify the traditional marvelous by an over-abundance of realism, obtaining a marvelous of the second degree, deeper than the first, whose equivalent I am unaware of in the entire history of the seventh art . . . a kind of unseen interior marvelous, in which reality has been totally recreated by dream, and vice-versa."[14]

There is a hint in Beylie's remarks of that dynamic relation between realism and expressionism, documentary and fantasy, that we have been tracing in Rossellini's films. What is more interesting about the above encounter, however, is how firmly both positions, though concerned primarily with the film's spiritual dimension, are anchored in a discourse of realism. To speak of Rossellini, at least until recently, is always to speak in these terms.



La paura (Fear; also known by the German title Angst ), the final collaboration between Bergman and Rossellini, is a clear falling off from their earlier films. For one thing, it is much more thoroughly "dramatized," in the conventional sense, and by the time it was released (in two versions, one doctored by the distributor), Rossellini's loss of energy and interest was apparent to everyone, especially his producers. He was not to make another film for three years.

Sergio Amidei, one of the principal collaborators on the screenplay, and a long-time Rossellini associate, has called it

a very bad film. One of those famous lost opportunities. . . . But by this point Rossellini had gotten tied up in that complex of things, wives, children. . . . He hadn't changed, and he still had that extraordinary capacity to seduce you, but he had a lot of weight on his shoulders that he had to resolve. . . . There was the problem of survival, but a sense that he really didn't like this kind of cinema was also unconsciously growing inside him. It didn't interest him any longer, he did it against his will: let's tell the truth. The idea of the kind of cinema that he has done in the last few years, cinema that is more informational, was beginning to develop deep inside him.[1]

The strain of repeated failure also began showing up in Rossellini's family life as well, for it was obvious to everyone that Bergman's continuing loyalty to him was hurting her career. But she was chafing at the same time:

I remember that Angst (Fear ) was quite difficult because we had the children with us, and we were doing two language versions, one German, one English, and I suppose my emotions were showing through a bit. I always felt a little


resentful that Roberto wouldn't let me work with any other director. There were all these wonderful Italian directors: Zeffirelli, Fellini, Visconti, De Sica; all wanted to work with me and I wanted to work with them; and they were furious with Roberto that he wouldn't let me work for them . . . but in Roberto's terms, I was his property.

Roberto couldn't work with actresses except Anna Magnani. Maybe that was because they were the same stock, a good mix. We weren't a good mix. The world hated the Rossellini version of me, so nothing worked. And he was stuck with me. What did he want with an international star? Nothing. He didn't know what to write for me. And of course, by this time we both knew it. It was something we did not talk about. But the silences between us grew longer—the silences when I didn't dare to say anything because I would hurt his feelings. Roberto would take whatever I said, and, unhappy as he was, would make a scene about it. He liked to fight. And besides the traumas of our artistic life, our increasing debts worried me enormously.[2]

Angelo Solmi, in an article in Oggi , seems to have been speaking for the majority of Italian critics when he said: "The abyss into which Bergman and Rossellini have plunged can be measured by Fear . This is not because this film is any worse than their other recent motion pictures together, but because half a dozen tries with negative results prove the inability of the couple to create anything acceptable to the public or the critics."[3] Yet it was worse than their other films together, much worse. Nor have the film's fortunes improved very much since the dramatic shift in recent critical opinion in favor of the Bergman-era films.

Yet, somehow the film's aesthetic failures make it even more interesting from other points of view. For one thing, it is the most expressionist of all the films of this period—perhaps because of the German setting, as with Germany, Year Zero —and for another, it directly thematizes, consciously or unconsciously, various autobiographical details between husband and wife. It is also a kind of gathering-up of Rossellinian motifs and concerns that Jose Guarner has nicely summarized:

It could well be called Viaggio in Germania or Germania, anno sette , or even Europa '54 , so completely does it confirm the constancy of the director's thought and inspiration. La paura is a cool, northern film, almost Dreyer-like in contrast to the sensual warmth and erupting vitality of Viaggio in Italia . Significantly, it marked the end both professionally and maritally of Rossellini's partnership with Ingrid Bergman.[4]

The story itself, adapted from a novella of the same name by Stefan Zweig, is a suffocatingly banal bourgeois melodrama. It concerns Irene, a married woman with two children, who has taken a lover and feels guilty disguising this from her husband. While her husband was a prisoner of war, she had begun running their factory, and she continues to do so while he acts as chief scientist. Her crisis is precipitated by the fact that her lover's former girlfriend is blackmailing her, insisting on more onerous payments each time. Finally, her demands become too great and Irene simply gives up, saying she will go to the police. The blackmailer, frightened, admits that it was Irene's husband who asked her to do it, so that by gradually increasing the pressure on her, she would confess


all to him and then be forgiven. Irene is thoroughly demoralized by the knowledge of her husband's "experiment" on her, exactly like his experiments with rats and guinea pigs in the laboratory, and resolves to kill herself. Just as she is about to take the poison they have been using on the lab animals, her husband stops her and they unite in a tearful embrace, forgiving each other and pledging their love.

This melodramatic plot is partially redeemed by the extensive use of expressionist elements that give the film a weighty sort of existential sullenness. Even the opening credits have a vertiginous Hitchcockian spiral whirling behind them to the accompaniment of a Renzo Rossellini musical score reminiscent of the tense scores of Germany, Year Zero , and Una voce umana . The first shots, part of a brilliantly photographed night scene, show a car making its way through rain-covered streets; obviously affected by film noir conventions, these images seem somehow sharper and more deeply etched than most films of the time. The very first image, actually, is a tilt shot that moves vertically down a darkened church tower until it reaches the ground, where it picks up the car. In this film of relentless horizontals and incessant leveling, such a strong vertical shot downward from the steeple seems to tell us right from the beginning that any form of transcendence will be utterly denied. Throughout the film we will be subjected to a purely human, almost material, level of event, idea, and emotion; the search for salvation that occupies many of Rossellini's other films will become an irrelevancy, almost an atavistic embarrassment amid the studied banality of Fear . As we follow the car's progress, a mood of existential anonymity envelops us as well, for until the end of the sequence, we do not have the slightest idea who is driving the car, or where, or why. The images are thus aestheticized when we expect exposition, and Rossellini refuses to diminish their intensity by the concession of a close-up of a human being to whom we can begin relating. This opening sequence alone almost rescues the film, in advance, from the vacuity of its plot and characters, and gives a indication of its ongoing visual richness.

As in Germany, Year Zero and the other Bergman pictures, the camera relentlessly tracks the protagonist throughout the film; she cannot seem to shake its incessant focus. When she leaves the kitchen after having asked her maid for a loan (to pay the blackmailer), the camera remains with the group of servants for a long moment, but, exercising great restraint, the director has them say nothing. A less austere film would certainly call for a comment here, an aside in her absence, to make sure we understood that this was strange behavior. Rossellini does not even allow the servants to nod to one another, or make the slightest gesture. Similarly, the director permits the temps mort of getting in and out of cars, for example, to stand in order, once again, to fashion a sense of lived reality despite this film's decidedly increased narrative and dramatic conventionality. In addition, as in Germany, Year Zero , emotional pressure is signified by pounding bass drums that jump out from the musical score, and the same pattern of light and dark emerges to form a symbolic landscape of the protagonist's interior state. The mise-en-scène is as stark and spare as the earlier film's, and both films are overtly concerned with a sense of instinctual guilt that appealed to Rossellini as evidence of the existence of a natural moral code. Thus, though Edmund has


been told by Nazi philosophy that his father should be done away with because he is useless, and though Irene presumably believes it is exciting and adventurous to have a lover (at least she does in the novella; in the film her motives remain unexplained), both "instinctively" recoil at the touch of a loved one they are about to betray.[5]

One particular set of contrasting shots that Rossellini uses well is connected with automobiles, and is similar to the kind of dynamic we have seen in earlier Bergman-era films. One type of shot, in the cramped interior of a Volkswagen, is intensely claustrophobic; Irene and Martin argue in this crowded space, and later Martin plots, in the same location, with the blackmailer. The other type is the precise opposite of the first: here the camera is mounted directly on the front bumper or hood and makes us feel as though we are hurtling blindly through space, out on a limb, with no reference points beyond the flashes of reality whizzing past. The feeling of danger is strong in this kind of shot, but it is more than counterbalanced by an accompanying sensation of freedom. Its most vivid use comes when Martin and Irene are traveling through the forest to visit their children in the country. We sense the refreshment of body and spirit that the sight of the trees and the country road brings the couple, but the fact that the camera seems to be cut off from all support is simultaneously dismaying. Nor do we know just exactly what it is that we are so heartily plunging into. (A similar shot occurs at the beginning of Voyage to Italy , with the same mixed sensations of freedom and dread.) This queer combination of the superficially "happy" and the foreboding comes up again, a few minutes later, in the brilliant, if painful, fishing scene in which the family seems to be so fully unified and loving. The moment is marked by a dark undercurrent in the music, and the fish that we watch writhing on the hook as Martin pulls it in reminds us of the various symbolic fish of Stromboli and signals the presence of a similar animal-victim sexual motif in Fear .

This symphony of expressionist effects reaches a crescendo in the final fifteen minutes of the film. Irene meets her blackmailing tormentress in a bar—with its full complement of violent light-and-shadow effects—and, reaching her psychological limit, just like the guinea pig in her husband's laboratory, decides to give up. Rossellini's camera is active in pointing up truths and drawing conclusions here, for in the deep-focus shot that extends from the two women out into the film noir area of the street illuminated by a solitary light, we understand clearly, this time visually, that the real source of Irene's torment is her husband. At one point, in a bold, stylized composition, Martin exactly occupies the space between the two women, neatly completing the emotional equation.

Irene rushes out of the café, gets into her car, and, in an almost exact replication of the opening shots of the car prowling through the streets (suggesting more than anything else an animal trapped in a maze), returns to the factory. There the emotion is uncharacteristically heaped on as she makes a farewell suicide call to her children. While she is seated at her desk, the camera dollies in toward her, ever so slowly, enveloping her in a movement that is accompanied by a slight circling motion of entrapment, like the sequence of Edmund's walk toward suicide. (The shot also looks forward to Rossellini's later use of the slow zoom inward as investigative tool.) Again, as with Edmund, the director


Guinea pig: Bergman, as Irene, in the laboratory with her scientist husband
(Mathias Wieman) in Fear  (1954).

encourages his protagonist to indulge in random motions like absently playing with the telephone—motions that a more conventional director might have found distracting to the principal emotional focus of the scene.

In the final sequence Rossellini lets out all the expressionist stops. Irene opens the door leading to the laboratory, and the intense backlighting throws her enormous, grotesquely distorted shadow from one end of the ceiling to the other. She stumbles from one lab table to the next, toward her final destiny, as one set of lights after another is illuminated. Sobbing, heavily shadowed, she walks by all the cages, obviously empathizing with the trapped animals. One shot even shows her in extreme close-up through a cage, thus putting her visually inside it. She accidentally breaks a beaker, and the sound of the shattering glass causes a temporary emotional release in her and the audience. As she desperately searches for the curare that will release her from the psychological torment her husband has inflicted on her, as well as from what Rossellini sees as her own "instinctual" guilt, she is "rescued" at the last moment by the sound of her husband's voice calling her name. In an exquisite, if brief, moment of acting, Bergman/Irene seems unsure of how to respond to his pleas, but when he asks for forgiveness she embraces him and admits to simply being unable to


confess her transgression to him. As she tells him that she loves him, her face is in full light, and the sudden transformation that occurs at the end of Voyage to Italy and Stromboli (in a different key) reigns once again, though now even less convincingly. She tells him breathlessly, "I couldn't take it any more, I love you."

This time, however, the ending is problematic for technical reasons as well. Various Rossellini critics have, in fact, reported quite different endings, and, given Rossellini's notorious lack of concern for the integrity of his films once he had finished with them, we shall probably never have anything resembling a definitive version. Guarner states flatly, "In La paura , the Wagners have no reconciliation (although it may be that the producer who renamed it Non credo più all'amore [I No Longer Believe in Love] for commercial distribution, also changed the order of the scenes to give a different impression, which in no way emerges from Rossellini's version), nor does the wife rush into her husband's arms imploring forgiveness."[6]

Aprà and Berengo-Gardin quote Mida to the effect that "Rossellini has also made a second version of this film, which contains some retouching and a different ending," and themselves add:

To be precise, the retouching consists in the addition of Irene's voice-over which comments on several silent scenes, and the changing of the ending to several shots taken from one of the central scenes of the film, accompanied, once again, by Irene's voice offscreen.

The film appeared in theaters in June of 1955 with the title La paura but, given its lack of success, it was withdrawn and rereleased later in the second version, but with the same results.[7]

This explanation makes matters even more confused, of course, because it associates Rossellini with the changes of the "original" version of the film. When the director himself was questioned about the repetition of the earlier scene at the end of the film (the version Aprà and Berengo-Gardin seem to ascribe to Rossellini), he said: "No, you see, these manipulations are done all the time: the distributors said . . . 'Look at this imbecile: he has Ingrid Bergman and he's not making a commercial film!' So the producer got his hands on La paura and made a commercial film out of it." When pressed as to the definitive ending, however, Rossellini could only answer: "Oh, I don't remember, I don't remember. It seems to me that it ended with those mouse cages . . . something like that. But I don't remember."[8] The version that repeats earlier family sequences at the end of the film and that incorporates Irene's voice-over seems, therefore, not to be the version that Rossellini would have preferred. However, it is still impossible to say whether he meant the couple to be reunited in the end (as in the version extant in the United States, which ends in the laboratory and contains no flashbacks and no voice-over) or to remain apart, as in the version Guarner describes.

Another potentially fruitful line of inquiry concerning Fear is the relation of the film version to Zweig's original novella, Die Angst . Some obvious changes stem from the different nature of the two media: thus, Rossellini adds the


brooding shots of the car making its way through the anonymous city and he exteriorizes interior states through the use of music and visual images. He also shortens the exposition, primarily, in this case, to eliminate all information pertaining to Irene's lover's past and the history of their affair. In addition, the dreams that Zweig occasionally makes use of are left out of the film entirely, though their trace remains in Rossellini's expressionist treatment of the subject matter. Finally, Rossellini has also decided to locate the children in the country, so as to thematize the city-country dichotomy, while at the same time getting the children out of the way in order to streamline and focus the encounters between husband and wife.

Much more significant, however, are the alterations that give us direct evidence of Rossellini's continuing preoccupations and motifs. For example, everything connected with animals in this film was invented by Rossellini, and he explicitly mentioned this motif in an interview when describing "the doctor who treats his wife just like the guinea pigs he does experiments on."[9] Rossellini has also changed the husband's occupation from lawyer to scientist, apparently so that the animal parallels might be made more overt, but also to allow him to enhance the film visually by including equipment and apparatus, the tools of science that would fascinate him the rest of his life.

In Zweig's version we are presented with a rather insipid, morally flabby Irene who has little to do with the more interesting character played by Bergman. In the film, Irene's individual history is greatly diminished, perhaps so that she might more easily become a symbolic integer in the manner of the Irene of Europe '51 . Similarly, Zweig's interest in the class difference between the leisured protagonist and her vulgar blackmailer disappears, as one might expect, in Rossellini's essentialized world, to be replaced by a greater subtlety in the apportionment of guilt. In Zweig, the woman carries most of the blame, but in Rossellini, consistent with the earlier Bergman films, the husband and wife seem meant to be regarded as equally at fault. Despite the director's intentions, however, the husband's sadistic need for a confession causes audience sympathy to remain firmly with Irene throughout the film.

By far Rossellini's most important changes concern his complicated and uneasy examination of sex and gender roles. Even if one is by training and inclination rather skeptical about autobiographical exegesis, it seems clear that the director is dramatizing his own insecurity and domestic troubles in this film. For example, all of the business about Irene taking over the factory and making it work while Martin was a prisoner of war was added by Rossellini. The fact that she continually drives the car, even when her husband is present, also seems significant, especially when she taunts him at one point for urging her to slow down with the words "Why, are you afraid?" Later, when she is harassed at the opera by the blackmailer, she asks Martin to take her home, but the next shot shows her at the wheel. (The autobiographical reference is perhaps even more direct in view of Rossellini's lifelong penchant for driving fast cars.) In another scene Martin tries to talk Irene into taking some time off from the factory, because "you've done even more than your share and it's time you slowed down. . . . I don't like to see you work, you could very easily enjoy a comfortable life like so many other women do in your position." When she accuses


him of a lack of faith in her abilities, he answers, "It's simply that I don't want you to kill yourself working." These moments seem to point to a sharp gender role reversal that bothers Rossellini and that may be related to his continued failure to make a commercially successful film with Bergman. In this light, the film's formal links with the tradition of American film noir become even more significant, especially since these films, with their dangerous femmes fatales, have increasingly come to be seen as a manifestation of postwar male anxiety concerning women's successful assumption of male roles during the war years.

Even more overt are Rossellini's changes regarding the story's central thematic scene, when the daughter is accused of stealing something from the son, and both Zweig and Rossellini consciously underline the comparison between the daughter's refusal to confess and her mother's similar refusal. (Rossellini, however, leaves the already obvious parallel verbally unstated, whereas Zweig's less subtle narrator asks rhetorically, "Was he speaking about his wife or his daughter?") In Zweig's version the sibling disagreement is over a rocking horse, given to the brother, that his sister has broken and hidden. Rossellini takes this already sexually suggestive object and increases the stakes by changing it to a toy rifle. Earlier in the film, in fact, the rifle is stressed when Irene and Martin discuss what presents they should bring the children, and Martin says, "Bobby wants an air rifle, but the trouble is that Frieda wants one too. I believe it will be better if we buy her a doll." The guilt-ridden, distracted Irene can only meekly answer, "Yes."

When they get to the country, the little girl is upset at not having gotten a gun too, and her father replies, "No, little girls shouldn't play with rifles, little girls mustn't shoot." Angry with being stuck with a "silly old doll," Frieda hides her brother's rifle, a gesture laden with obvious psychoanalytic overtones. Furthermore, since the scene occurs right after the discussion about Irene working, quoted above, and since the mother-daughter guilt parallel is about to become overt, it seems possible to think of this symbolic "gun play" in terms of the husband and wife as well.

It is unclear what these changes add up to, and once again it is difficult to know just where to place Rossellini in all of this. Is he merely chronicling Martin's torture of Irene, or revelling in it? The compilers of the "Chronicle" included in the British Film Institute's dossier on Rossellini are, for once, more sanguine about this emphasis and more favorably disposed toward the director than the details warrant. They say, for example, that the film

can be seen as a critical return upon Rossellini's way of looking, examining the "reverse" side of the "innocent" looking implied in all the films usually hailed as Rossellini's masterpieces. By inscribing the problem of the male's look at a woman at the core of the text, Rossellini simultaneously makes the previously "unproblematic" misogyny of his work available for critical scrutiny.

They also approvingly quote Jill Forbes' review of the film in Monthly Film Bulletin (no. 566) to the effect that "La paura addresses the issues of domestic politics with a fundamentally liberal understanding of the female condition which makes it extraordinary in its time—and indeed in ours."[10]

It seems equally plausible, however, to maintain that Rossellini's misogyny is


"available for critical scrutiny" in this film because his increasing frustration and hostility has simply led him toward a more overt violence against woman. Given the explicit changes from Zweig's novella, in fact, Rossellini seems to be suggesting that, in the terms of the global critique we encountered in Europa '51 , one of the things terribly wrong with present-day society is precisely the confusion of gender roles caused by the war. This confusion is one more manifestation of the general collapse of values that Martha, the old housekeeper, complains about too bitterly to Irene during the same momentous visit to the children. She is speaking of the Wagners' country home, of course, but, given the fact that the home is the proper purview of the female, and the locus of traditional values, the implication of her words extends far beyond that: "The devil is at work in this house, no order, no sense of duty. Have you had a look at the grounds? Nobody bothers to take care of them, or even to mow the lawn. The whole place is a terrible mess."

What, then, can we say about Rossellini's treatment of women, especially in those films he made with Bergman? Like the Japanese director Mizoguchi, although Rossellini sympathizes deeply and genuinely with his women as victims, in depicting their victimization he seems almost to enjoy punishing them. Which comes first, the sympathy or the punishment, and which causes which? Ultimately it is impossible to tell, and the matter must be left oscillating between these two poles, opposites that clearly constitute each other. But if Rossellini made Bergman "ugly" in these films, as some have said, he also made her a person. The saving feature, in other words, is that these women portrayed by Bergman and, earlier, by Magnani are always the central focus of their stories, always complex characters faced with difficult moral problems. They are more than the equals of their ineffectual lovers and stupid husbands. Of precious few male directors working in the late forties and early fifties can as much be said.


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