Skip to main content

Review: Viaggio in Italia (1954)



Now widely regarded as an epoch-making masterpiece, premonitory of the rise of Italian modernism, Roberto Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia (1954) suffered a thorough drubbing in its box office, though was greatly admired by auteurs like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. The film is, at its core, a bracing study on the fraught relationship of reverse elements- George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman played a British couple journeying to Naples to sell an inherited property; the husband is a stolid rationalist whilst the wife a sensitive romantic. Their glaring disharmony is more acted out through their overt disdain for one another; both are susceptible, the moment they touch down the foreign land, to the immaturity of making each other jealous to express their longing for mutual understanding. Amongst many of the couples’ venomous exchanges, the wife, on one occasion, recalls a past fancy for a now-deceased poet, to which the aggrieved husband responds derisively: “He was a fool… [Poet and fool,] what is the difference?” This, and the fact that the couple is named Joyce, invoke James Joyce’s “The Dead,” but such affinity is in fact very tenuous. While Joyce’s masterwork maintains a veneer of merriment that carefully disguises the festering wound, at least, until the denouement, Rossellini exposes in unflinching detail a misalliance that neither the husband nor the wife cares to conceal from the public eye.

One distinctive aspect of the film that makes it the precedent of succeeding works of Italian modernists is its sharp veer from the conventional narrative style, preoccupying most of all with imageries that seem to bear little relevance to the central theme of the story, but, once those scenes are given much pondering afterward, may be of profound, symbolic meanings that, on most occasions, reflect the characters’ states of mind. Such is equivalent to the use of symbols and metaphors in literature; the ingenious tricks that make movie-viewing not merely a preferred recreation of time-killing, but a rewarding digestion of serious works of art. A lot of time in Viaggio the camera lingers on several notable tourist spots that Katherine, the wife, visits in her solitary excursion. Here, Rossellini does not make the tropes as mystifying as, say, Antonioni would’ve done in his famous pieces. There are direct associations with love, death, solitude and danger of the places Katherine visits; reminders that intensify her feeling of loneliness, which in turn almost effaces her hitherto detestation for her dour husband. In a similar fashion Antonioni also made a film (La Notte) about how a dying love can be revived by the fear of loneliness- but, as the ending of the film leaves us thinking, can the restored love still retain its former passion? In other words, and to put it simply, is that real love?

Is that real love? The ending sequence of Viaggio sees the husband suggests brusquely of a divorce, and the wife, flustered and dismayed when she’s swept along by a throng of religious procession, realises that she cannot bear the thought of being separated from her husband for good, reunites with him and both decides to bury whatever rancour they used to harbour against each other. Whether such reunion is actuated out of their still unwavering love or a fear of loneliness exacerbated by the feeling of alienation in a foreign country, the film never offers a persuasive answer. Such seemingly unconvincing and ambiguous closure is distinct from that of its similar sorts- those that also centralise on travellers in a foreign country- in which rarely do the events tie up in a positive outcome. Hapless or not, what those intrepid adventurers do share- and it is perhaps the most inspiring quality of this particular subject- is a profound understanding of one’s inner self or the environment- physical, moral or psychological- that one inhabits. The formula seems invariably that one flounders and one gains wisdom; flounders again and yet another new wisdom is gained. Life is an unending cycle of “journeys” like that.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Honore Daumier

“If you shut up truth and bury it under ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.”- Émile Zola
Exited Honoré Victorin Daumier, 10 February 1879, in an impoverishment that many of his contemporaries, especially his foes, would have thought was his long overdue retribution- the painter was blind, heavily in debt, and later relegated to a pauper’s grave. His friends, upon visiting his resting place, would, I imagine, see it a chance to admonish their children: “Now that’s a lesson for you cheeky devils whose tongues rattle off things that should better stay unspoken.” But Daumier devoted his life in revealing those “unspoken things.” His lithography ink proved sharper than most writers’ pens. He vented his rage and stigmatised others’ infamy in his satirical and, oftentimes, side-splitting cartoons. The tone was relentlessly acerbic but only because Daumier was exposing truths that, in the time…

Review: Gaslight (1944)

Despite its varied forms or narratives, all Gothic fictions revolve on a fundamental contrast: that between the tenuous comfort of an isolated self and the dangerous fascination of an intrusive otherness. The Victorian is an age characterised by its obsession with the supernatural – poised on the verge of modernity, with scientific advancements like Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species inspired missions to unlock the myths of the natural world, people began to take notice of what lay outside their limited knowledge of things, of anything that is external to the closed domain of humanity. This curiosity for the unknown provoked an appraisal for the known – the immutable social system was revealed as hostile to the cultivation of individual minds, and time-honoured ethics such as that dictating a woman’s role in a traditional domesticity a menace to the preservation of personal integrity.
The negotiation between the old and the new, the internal and the external, is the dominant theme of V…

Review: Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)

Every adversity in life is a test of one's fortitude, the occasion of which, as proved invariably in the past, man is capable of defying destiny, of reversing the inexorable course to which life is doomed to tend. Too often we sympathise with the travails of the dogged, indefatigable fighter, whose hard-on victory we shed tears of relief and admiration, and whose stories and examples we evoke when in need of a boost of morale or motivation, that our notion of heroism has come to be hallowed with a glow of divinity peculiar to those who triumph in their fights. Those who fail – the martyrs who labour for nothing, who die without fulfilling what they die for – they are regarded with no less sympathy, but to recount their stories we averse, refusing to be reminded of what ultimately makes us humans – our inherent and infinite capacity to fail.
To face up to one’s failures, especially with the forlorn hope that such failures can ever be remedied, requires a special kind of courage. Wil…