Film review: Journey to Italy (PG)


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The Independent Culture

Roberto Rossellini's 1954 movie is a cornerstone of Italian neo-realism, and became a key inspiration to the French new wave. On the surface, it's a portrait of a marriage in eclipse.

An English couple (Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders) travel by car to Naples to oversee the sale of an inherited villa. Thrown into unfamiliar proximity, they seem to realise that they are virtual strangers to one another.

He is patrician, impatient, aloof; she is skittish and wistful about an old flame, and buries her discontent in visits to the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, where death glowers back at her.

Hauntingly shot in black-and-white, the film has a high reputation that may baffle. Rossellini's working methods were chaotic, and he barely establishes any flow between one scene and the next.

The script was apparently notional, and neither Sanders nor Bergman (the director's wife, soon to be divorced) look at all comfortable with improvising. The closing scene, in which the couple are caught in a Catholic street procession, is preposterous.

There are flashes of feeling, mostly in Bergman's weepy performance, but Sanders looks as though he might be in a different movie altogether, and according to set reports wished that he had been.