Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders star in VOYAGE TO ITALY, Roberto Rossellini's profound, metaphysical study of a marriage in crisis.
Alexander Joyce (George Sanders), a wealthy British businessman, and his wife, Katherine (Ingrid Bergman), travel to Italy to inspect a house that an uncle has left them. As they drive, they realize that this is the first time they've been alone together since they were married eight years ago,
and that they have surprisingly little to say to each other. At their hotel in Naples, Alexander runs into some friends, including an attractive French woman named Marie (Maria Mauban), and they all go to dinner together, but Katherine is disgusted by Alexander's flirting. The next day, the couple
go to see the house they've inherited. After eating lunch and sunning themselves for a while on the house's terrace, Katherine goes alone to a museum, where she looks at statues of Nero, Caesar, and other historical figures. At night, Katherine and Alexander attend a party and Katherine has a
wonderful time, but Alexander chastises her for flirting with the men there. After a big fight, they decide to separate for a while and Alexander goes to Capri, where he runs into Marie again and attempts to begin an affair with her, but is dejected when she tells him that her husband will be
In Naples, Katherine visits the ruins of an ancient city and a volcano. When Alexander returns from Capri, he picks up a prostitute (Anna Proclemer), but only drives around with her, and when he comes home, Katherine pretends she's asleep. In the morning, Katherine drives into town and visits some
catacombs, where the sight of skulls and skeletons upsets her. When she returns home, Alexander tells her that he wants a divorce, and she agrees with him, but the caretaker (Tony Burton) of their house comes along and insists they come with him to look at an exciting discovery at the ruins of
Pompeii. They do so, and the uncovering of the petrified remains of an embracing couple who were killed by lava centuries ago is too much for Katherine and she runs away. Alexander drives her home, but they get stuck in the streets of Naples, where a religious festival is taking place. They get
out of the car, and Katherine is swept away by the fervent crowd. Alexander rescues her, and they embrace and express their love for each other.
VOYAGE TO ITALY was critically savaged when it was first released in the US in an English version called STRANGERS, running nearly 20-minutes shorter than the original. It was attacked as being "dull," "plodding," "slow," "hackneyed," "meandering," "poorly photographed," "poorly written," and
"incompetently directed." At the same time, the French "new wave" critics called it a masterpiece: Jacques Rivette wrote that on its appearance, "all other films suddenly aged 10 years," and Jean-Luc Godard rhapsodically described it as being among "the most beautiful of films." Beyond the obvious
differences of the original with the shortened version, this brings up the interesting question of what exactly "beauty" means in the context of the cinema. Is it just the presentation of pretty pictures and professional acting, artfully composed and photographed, proficiently assembled and
conforming to a proscribed set of narrative conventions designed to elicit the expected responses of laughs and tears? Or is there beauty in the truthful, unmelodramatic observation of people, in an attempt to examine the human soul and such existential intangibles as life, death, history and
time? If it is the latter, then VOYAGE TO ITALY really is among the most beautiful of films.
The Joyces' voyage is a spiritual journey in which the beauty, and the horror, of the Italian landscape makes them reflect on the emptiness of their lives (their need to always be with other people; Katherine's jealousy upon seeing so many pregnant women), as well as their mortality, (the
increasingly disturbing trips to the ruins, culminating with the shocking Pompeii discovery). The scenes in the museums, ruins, and volcanoes have a mystical, timeless quality to them which truly are beautiful, with the camera eerily circling around the statues (a camera movement Godard copied
verbatim in 1963's CONTEMPT, along with the scene of the characters sunning themselves on the roof of the Italian villa). The film is slow and plodding, but the lack of a traditional plot is exactly the point, as reflected in Alexander's constant complaints of boredom and his comment that "this
country poisons you with laziness." Bergman (who was Rossellini's wife at the time) is stripped of her usual glamour, while Rossellini cuts through Sanders's cultivated facade of sarcastic disdain, presenting him as a real human being for perhaps the only time on film. By the accumulation of
mundane details of everyday life--eating, driving, sleeping, quarreling--Rossellini creates a kind of scientific verisimilitude and realism that's detached, but never impassive, and the reconciliation climax is moving precisely because of its casual naturalism and lack of hyperbole. VOYAGE TO
ITALY is a documentary love story about cruelty, kindness, and the brevity of life, inspiring one to examine one's own conscience and realize just how precious life really is. (Adult situations.)
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- Review: Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders star in VOYAGE TO ITALY, Roberto Rossellini's profound, metaphysical study of a marriage in crisis. Alexander Joyce (George Sanders), a wealthy British businessman, and his wife, Katherine (Ingrid Bergman), travel to Ital… (more)