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19— Fear (1954–55)
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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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