Regardless of what translation you prefer, whether it be Journey to Italy or Voyage in Italy, it is quite clear that Roberto Rossellini's some what unknown film is centered on commenting upon a failing marriage. Now this is certainly not a topic that has been ignored by cinema and has manifested itself quite nicely in films of multiple genres, as well as countries of origin. What many of these films fail to do though is truly capture the earnestly of a fracturing marriage, as well as the trouble in trying to fix those often insurmountable problems. Where many films will attempt to use metaphor or heavy-handed symbolism to drive a point across, Rossellini instead focuses on his neo-realist roots and simply lays out a story so believable and plausible that when he does incorporate very clear moments of symbolist leanings, they seem so relevant and realized that it makes for that much greater a film. Not to mention the acting, all be it dubbed, is quite astonishing and certainly worth praise. I have not been shy by any means about my misgivings regarding Italian cinema, citing a very minimal amount of films that I enjoyed, well it just grew by one with the addition of this film, a long sought after film that I desired greatly to consume.
Voyage To Italy centers on a trip undertook by a married couple the opinionated and decidedly misogynist Alexander (George Sanders) and his wife, the intellectually inclined, yet troublesomely sheepish Katherine (Ingrid Bergman). The two are engaging in this trip to the Italian country with clear hopes of fixing their flailing marriage, one that they both know is headed for divorce, but neither wants to acknowledge. Once to their place of stay near Naples the two have decidedly different plans on how to spend their time in the town. Alexander wants to go bar hopping and meet people, most of which are women, while Katherine simply wants to take in the museums and historical landmarks of the area, taking a particularly keen interest in the aftermath of Vesuvius. As the two go through their separate vacations their feelings further disintegrate, Alexander meets a local woman and falls for her only to discover that she is on the cusp of a marriage, while Katherine seeks solitude in a museum only to realize that humans had struggled with similar situations thousands of years earlier. The two reunite on the closing day of their trip and while Katherine seems committed to fixing their problems, all Alexander can consider is the act of divorce. Yet when the two are separated forcefully at a church procession the two realize that they in fact love one another and realize the loss imminent in such a separation. The two affirm their love in the closing scenes and reconnect in a sweetly simple moment of passion.
I mentioned that this film does have its share of symbolism, but that it does not manifest itself in obnoxious ways as so many contemporary films seem to do, perhaps this could be accredited to something Francois Truffaut said about the work. Defending Voyage to Italy from a slew of harsh criticism, Truffaut praised the film as being the first truly modern film. Perhaps Truffaut was right in such an assertion and as such it makes the symbolism seem fresh, in that the film is clearly old, yet incorporates metaphor and symbolism in a manner one has come to expect with somebody like Paul Thomas Anderson or David Fincher. The most pertinent and permeating image of the couples marriage throughout the film is the constant image of Mount Vesuvius in the background, which while obviously dormant implies the possibility of eruption, in this case the marriage of Katherine and Alex. Furthermore, Katherine's trip through a museum leads her to become wary of her relationship to the past, particularly when the statues painted eyes seem to gaze upon her, and the viewer, in eerie condemnation. Finally, the moment in which Katherine and Alexander view the excavation of two bodies from the ash of Vesuvius serves as the most on the nose metaphor of the entire film, particularly considering that the dead bodies are interlocked, suggesting a partnership. Meant as a reminder of love to the struggling couple it manages to seem perfect within the film and far from preachy. Perhaps it is the notion that Rossellini was one of the first to incorporate such imagery or that the images are location based, but one cannot help but adore their incorporation into this brilliant bit of cinema.
Key Scene: The museum scene is a bit of existential beauty.
Criterion has a HuluPlus page for some of you that may not know, I had yet to watch anything but the free version of Grey Gardens, yet when I read that they had released this film I jumped on the chance to view it and so should you because it is criminally under-appreciated.