Final theatrical film of the two Bergmans (since Fanny & Alexander was shot for television), and each Bergman got an oscar nomination (as did two unrelated songwriters named Bergman that year), but were no match for Hal Ashby’s Coming Home. Began shooting three days after I was born. First Bergman film I’ve seen shot in color, except for Saraband which I barely remember.

Opens with Liv Ullmann’s pastor husband narrating to us about her. Later Ingrid will speak aloud as in a play. There are flashbacks (either remembered or imagined) and a nightmare scene, all more theatrical and artificial than the other Bergmans I’ve been watching. It makes sense to watch this right after The Silence, which is also about two family members revealing their hatred for each other over the course of a night and day. However, I’d heard The Silence was one of Bergman’s top masterpieces, and I liked this one better – thought the conflict had a better and more explicable build-up.

So Ingrid plays the famed concert pianist mother of Liv, who has a more modest life in the country with her husband. Unbeknown to Ingrid, Liv is also housing her disabled younger sister Helena (Lena Nyman of I Am Curious), whose presence shakes Ingrid, reminding her of her failures as a mother, which Liv reminds her more and more about until Ingrid is driven from the house for what seems like the final time, riding home on a train alongside Winter Light‘s Gunnar Bjornstrand. It’s all very intense and poisonous and makes you wonder about Ingmar’s obsession with family members’ simmering hatred for each other. Looks absolutely splendid, though.

Watched some of the extras – played through the commentary but didn’t have the stamina for the full 3.5-hour making-of, right after watching the similar full-length doc about Winter Light.

R.R. places a deteriorating family amongst lovely scenery, like a proto-Eclisse or Climates. Ingrid Bergman and husband George Sanders are a bored rich couple in Naples waiting for an inheritance sale to come through – the first time they’ve been alone without friends and distractions since their marriage began eight years prior, and the solitude immediately reveals that they’re not very good together. Bergman is troubled and questioning, the titular voyager, taking meaningful tourist trips, while cruel drunken Sanders fucks off to Capri, hangs with some old acquaintances, tries to hook up with one of them then drives around with a prostitute. Finally back together, the couple admits it’s not working and plans divorce (in between two death scenes – Pompeii then a funeral), but a minute later they’re separated in the streets and run back into each other’s arms. This seems like an unhappy ending to me, but I’m not Italian so I wouldn’t know.

We visit Pompeii and unearth dead lovers, while Vesuvius lurks in the background, where I imagine Bergman’s clone is running from her husband Stromboli-style. Much mention from the locals about Bergman’s uncle Homer, late owner of the inherited property, how loved and respected he was. Our modern couple couldn’t seem to care less about love and respect, these small-town people and their concerns and customs.

Bergman is led around the area by Leslie Daniels, later of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die while Sanders hits on Maria Mauban, later of a Chabrol movie called Code Name: Tiger. Sanders had recently won an oscar as the gossip columnist narrator in All About Eve, and had as little respect for this film as his character had for his own circumstances, saying “the story of the film was never understood at any time by anyone, least of all the audience when the picture was released.” Ross nicked DP Enzo Serafin from the last few Antonioni films and had long stretches with no music, but it was brother Renzo’s most pleasant whenever it arrived. I liked it much more than Stromboli, not as much as Europa 51. For all R.R.’s supposed realism, I’ve been lately feeling that his movies’ endings ring false.

DVD commentarian Laura Mulvey calls it the last of the three “major” Rossellini/Bergman films, and the last of their marriage, “a story of social contrast and cultural shock,” and says that Renzo uses Neapolitan folk songs in his score. I can’t believe I didn’t catch this: the couple’s last name is Joyce, and Bergman tells a story of an admirer from her youth similar to the climax of James Joyce’s The Dead.

In one of the extras on the War Trilogy DVDs, somebody mentions the progression of location-specific titles in Rossellini’s films – from a city in Rome Open City, moving out to multiple cities in Paisan, to a country in Germany Year Zero, to an entire continent in Europa ’51. I had that in mind, also thinking of it as Ingrid Bergman’s followup to the island-landscape picture Stromboli, so was surprised that Europa goes smaller-scale, starting with a single upper-class family and ultimately focusing on one individual. It seems to be about compassion in modern society, which makes it more properly a follow-up to RR’s Flowers of St. Francis than Stromboli.

Irene (Bergman) and George (Alexander Knox, blacklisted in the US, later in Losey pictures) are wealthy enough to not have to deal directly with their sensitive son, leaving his care to teachers and housekeepers. George is sort of a motherfucker in general, won’t listen to anyone but himself, but he seems alright in small doses. Anyway, their son is tired of the constant neglect and throws himself down the stairs, dying soon after.

Unhappy couple:

Irene’s friend Andrea (a male name in Italian, played by writer/director Ettore Giannini) tells her the fatal fall was probably on purpose, and she reacts violently: “Oh George, we should change everything in our life!” Everyone else moves on, and it doesn’t take long before they’re chastising Irene for her manners instead of understanding her grief. She asks Andrea how she can help other children and he leads her to the slums, where the Galli family has a sick child who needs money for medicine.

She spends more time down there, meets local prostitute Ines and poor but joyous mother (and adoptive mother) Passerotto (La Strada star Giulietta Masina). Irene covers for a day at Passerotto’s new factory job, comes home angry, saying factory work is “an horrendous condemnation. And to think they want to raise work to a godlike status,” argues about it with communist Andrea, then goes back out in her mission to help humanity and atone for being a poor mother.

Dying Ines:

Giulietta Masina won’t stop talking long enough to take a screenshot:

Comes across Ines on the street, very sick with TB, takes her home and stays with her. But when Ines dies, Irene finds herself in the middle of a new neighborhood crisis, helping a criminal escape and getting rewarded with prison, then an asylum. Here the movie comes across as slightly obvious, when the psychologists decide to keep her locked up indefinitely because they can’t comprehend her selflessness, saying their mission is to “defend society as it is,” the last word on the subject being yelled outside the gates by Passerotto: “She’s a saint!”

Science vs. Compassion:

I was going to call it The Passion of Ingrid Bergman, forgetting that a couple years later, Rossellini and Bergman would make an actual Joan of Arc film. Instead, TCM confirms my thoughts about St. Francis with a Bergman quote (paraphrasing RR speaking to her): “I am going to make a story about Saint Francis and [Francis is] going to be you. It was just how we would behave in ’51 if a woman gives up a rich husband, a rich life, all her friends, everything, and goes out into the street to help the poor.” I guess critics have called it uneven, but I found it so much more interesting and less grating than Stromboli that I didn’t notice.

I didn’t hate this movie, but neither did I feel much sympathy for the lead character – and for the most part, she’s all we’ve got. Ingrid Bergman is a Lithuanian in a post-war displaced-women camp within Italy, denied her visa to Argentina, no family so no place to go. Hence, she agrees to marry some Italian who proposes through the barbed-wire fence, even though she doesn’t know him and speaks very little Italian. He whisks her away to the volcano town of Stromboli, which gives the movie its title since William Castle had already taken When Strangers Marry.

The music sounds doomed, and Ingrid is shocked at her new husband Antonio’s home, a poor, crumbling house in a near-deserted city beneath the volcano. “I’m very different from you. I belong to another class.” She cries in her room while a baby cries in the other room. I figured the movie is telling us that she’s being a baby, and I’d agree, but Rossellini allows her to get increasingly worse, asking the local priest for money, trying to run off with the lighthouse keeper, eventually escaping her husband (a hard-working fisherman who can’t adjust to his newly-pregnant wife’s attention-drawing big-city hysterics), running up the volcano (the second Rossellini movie in two years that ends with a pregnant woman, outcast from her small town, climbing a mountain) and shouting at God, making demands, just like she’s shouted at everyone else in the movie.

Maybe R.R. doesn’t want us to root for anyone, just presenting a story, saying this is how things are sometimes. Bergman’s character admits her faults, sums it up nicely: “They are horrible… I’m even worse.” The volcano eruption before her escape is probably highly symbolic, and her god-shouting at the end is supposed to be redemptive… or is it? I couldn’t figure it out, hence all the quoting below.

F. Camper on the ending:

[Tag] Gallagher also points out that, at the time Stromboli was made, Rossellini gave it an unmistakably Christian interpretation, saying that at the end “God [forces] her to invoke the light of Grace.” A decade later, however, when he was speaking to interviewers with different views and perhaps had changed himself, he declared such interpretations misunderstandings. … [this argument] seems to turn mostly on how broadly one conceives of grace, which perhaps depends on whether one is or is not Christian.

H. Salas in Senses says this film began R.R.’s “modern” period, during which Marxist critics accused him of betraying neorealism and Cahiers declared him the father of modern film. Elsewhere in Senses, J. Flaus defines its modernity – the most simply convincing explanation of Rossellini’s achievements that I’ve yet read:

Rossellini broke with the conventions of the classical narrative form which had dominated dramatic film from the introduction of sound in the late 1920’s. … If we have a [disappointed] response to Stromboli it will probably be because we are trying to assess it by the very conventions it seeks to depart from. … Rossellini directed Stromboli and other films of this period as though theatrical drama had never existed. His camera covers the action with few cuts or tight framings while the interaction between characters may seem ‘superficial’, lacking the familiar layers of development. Essentially he tells his story without expression: dialogue does not explore its subject matter, actors don’t ‘act’ so much as they ‘behave’, images are not ‘beautiful’ pictures of their subjects.

Rossellini moderates what might otherwise be too stringent a method: he chooses his moments to conform to the ‘rules’ and not only moments but even an entire sequence, such as the extraordinary scene of harvesting the shoal of tuna. But for the greater part of the film the narrative may seem to be merely outlines, not ‘filled in’. That was his artistic mission: not to sweep the rules away entirely, but to uncover a genuine cinematic experience which had been overlaid by the habits of another related but different art form.

Also great from J. Flaus: “For many of Rossellini’s generation, to walk out on a marriage is to cross a volcano.”

B. Stevenson’s analysis is almost impossible to quote in part since it seems like two massive sentences pointing out a similar trajectory in Bergman’s character over this and the next two movies (“descent, purgation and salvation”), and how the rough terrain of the island and volcanic eruption tie into the landscapes and warfare of the previous trilogy.

F. Camper:

Rossellini began the 1950 essay “Why I Directed Stromboli” by stating “one of the toughest lessons from this last war is the danger of aggressive egotism,” which he said leads to “a new solitude.” This is the theme that unites Stromboli’s subject and style. Karin’s redecoration of their home, with affectations such as chairs with very short legs, represents the antithesis of Rossellini’s approach to style. The villagers’ idea that she lacks modesty is correct: rather than try to understand their life and traditions, she imports tastes from a different culture. But in the film’s view they’re no more modest than she, with their narrow-minded judgments, facile misreadings, and harsh condemnations. Nor is Antonio blameless; he ultimately asserts his dominance over Karin by force. Almost no one here is able to transcend the boundaries of his or her own mind.

Like many of cinema’s masterpieces, Stromboli is fully explained only in a final scene that brings into harmony the protagonist’s state of mind and the imagery. This structure – also evident in films as diverse as Frank Borzage’s The Mortal Storm and Carl Dreyer’s Ordet – suggests a belief in the transformative power of revelation. Forced to drop her suitcase (itself far more modest than the trunks she arrived with) as she ascends the volcano, Karin is stripped of her pride and reduced – or elevated – to the condition of a crying child, a kind of first human being who, divested of the trappings of self, must learn to see and speak again from a personal “year zero” (to borrow from another Rossellini film title).

Deleuze creates his own trilogy out of this movie, Europa 51 and Germany Year Zero. He wrote about it in Cinema 2: The Time-Image, which I don’t have, or at least can’t find right now.

M. Grost, who mentions that it was shot near the islands used for L’Avventura:

One of the best scenes in the film shows a maze-like group of buildings from which Bergman is trying to escape. She wanders a great deal through them, and never does find her way out. But she gets some emotional relief from a large cactus plant in the background at one point. Later, she will have a similar plant inside her house: an innovation never heard of by the local islanders. … The politics of Stromboli recall those of Luchino Visconti’s La Terra Trema. Both deal with Sicilian fishermen. Both films express great pity about the extreme poverty and primitiveness of the life style of the fishermen; both are manifestos demanding improvements in their lot. Yet both films are deeply critical of the fisher society, and the way its inhabitants cling to their traditions.

The dubbing is wicked bad at times (I watched Rossellini’s English version, not his Italian-dubbed edition or the U.S. studio cut). One rabbit and a ton of fish are killed. Locals as actors, except the priest is Renzo Cesana, in two Hollywood movies the same year. Apparently due to a production company dispute (or Rossellini changing girlfriends), a movie called Volcano with the same plot was shot/released at the same time starring Anna Magnani. Nominated for the top prize in Venice but decried in the U.S. senate and by the catholic church.

Ahhh, Casablanca at the nearly-packed 4600-seat Fox Theater. Katy liked it!

Ingrid Bergman had been in Hollywood three years, and it’d be eight more before she met Robert Rossellini. Bogart owned the 1940’s, had already done Maltese Falcon and High Sierra. Police chief Claude Rains would play Bergman’s evil husband four years later in Notorious. Her husband in this movie, underground war hero Paul Henreid, didn’t appear in many other interesting films, but directed a whole bunch of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes. Nazi chief Conrad Veidt died a year after this came out. Dooley Wilson (Sam), would’ve been higher than tenth-billed if he was white.

Opened with Rabbit Seasoning from 1952, a full decade later. What, Blitz Wolf and Tulips Shall Grow from 1942 weren’t available? Or one of the Bogart-parody Looney Tunes? I have more imagination than the Fox programmers. A one-joke short, but it’s an enjoyable joke. The crowd loved it.