The distance that blooms

Romantic tension! Sexy romantic tension!

Italy a collaboration concerned with marital strife and cultural difference

The short-lived but extremely fertile romantic and creative partnership of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini—the subject of our October 3 instalment of Aspect Ratio—began with the Swedish-born Casablanca (1942) star's abandonment of Hollywood for the Italian director's native land in 1949. It seems fitting then that the couple's final feature film collaboration concerns martial strife and cultural difference and is titled Journey to Italy. It is a stark, beautiful film, at times piercingly resonant, very knowing about the distance that blooms between lovers, metastasizing through the body of their union before either party is capable of diagnosing it. In fact—spoiler ahead—the only part of Journey to Italy I never completely buy is the final reconciliation.

Katherine and Alex Joyce (Bergman and George Saunders) are a middle-aged English couple visiting Naples to liquidate some assets gained in an inheritance, including an enormous manor with a vast patio from which Mt Vesuvius can be seen. Unaccustomed to spending time alone together, the Joyces quickly realize they kind of can't stand each other. It would be an exaggeration to say this realization comes as a relief, but in neither does it prompt any display of grief—almost nothing seems to draw unruly emotions from these buttoned-down Brits. In lieu of hashing it out, Alex goes off in search of kicks in clubs and taverns, while Katherine visits museums and historical sites, which highlight the savagery of the past.

The film is defined by striking contrasts: female sensitivity and male callousness; Anglo-Saxon reserve and Mediterranean expressiveness; the self-absorption and pettiness of the present moment and the overwhelming sense of an individual's insignificance in the face of deep history. Enzo Serafin's brilliant camerawork fills the film with ascents and descents, with his protagonists always sinking or surfacing. Rossellini's manner of capturing the ancient artworks and architecture visited by Katherine is stunning, as though in each of these scenes there exists a tension or dialogue between the inanimate figures and Bergman's anxious, searching gaze. The film's most startling moment has both Katherine and Alex witness archeologists unearthing a pair of clinging corpses, victims of the eruption that consumed Pompeii and Herculaneum nearly 2000 years previous. This vision of fear, love and death comes to haunt the couple—fleeting pleasures or frustrations whither in the face of the eternal.

Journey to Italy is a quietly devastating exploration of long-term love and what it means to confront all we chance to lose. Thankfully, we haven't yet lost this film, long-championed by Martin Scorsese and other contemporary filmmakers. Metro Cinema begins screening the gorgeously restored version on Friday.

Fri, Nov 8 – Thu, Nov 14
Journey to Italy
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Originally released: 1954


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