Monday 30 April 2018 5.13pm
Viaggio in Italia (aka. Journey to Italy) 1954
A Roberto Rossellini Film
“If you hadn’t called me now, I would have thrown myself into the sea.”
“Isn’t that a little extreme?”
“Maybe, but it is what I would have done.
– Journey to Italy (1954)
It’s very interesting that Journey to Italy is the Rossellini film which frequently pops up on the Top 100 Films Ever list because on first viewing it isn’t the film that I would pick for being exceptional. Maybe because it is loosely structured and drifts, aimlessly at times, it is seen as a forerunner to Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960) and Godard’s films like A bout de soufflé (1960) and Pierrot le fou (1965).
Katherine and Alex are a married couple travelling in Italy. His Uncle has died and he’s inherited a beautiful house which he is keen to sell as quickly as possible. He is a business man who is quickly shown to be someone who is easily bored, judgmental and dissmmissive. His work is his life and taking time to visit Italy like a tourist annoys him. He would rather have flow in, organised the sale of the property, flown out, and been home a week ago. During the course of these few days together their marriage starts to unravel.
In terms of a storyline it doesn’t lay a solid foundation for the change in behaviour of the couple from their first moments together in the car at the beginning. Things seem fine. Sure, he is opinionated and likes rubbishing things he doesn’t understand but it doesn’t mean that the relationship is already floundering. So, the reasons which change their feelings for each other, pulling them apart, and the sudden last minute reconciliation are awkward and unconvincing, if it is judged as a straightforward drama. If it is actually a groundbreaking film because of all these things, then what it does is more impressionistic than realistic. It’s like a series of scenes that are pulled out of their journey in Italy, and the connecting scenes that would have shown the breakdown little by little are omitted. The story throws a blanket over the story about their relationship in one scene in particular, in their hotel room, towards the beginning of the film. Katherine makes a comment to Alex, “This is the first time we’ve been really alone, ever since we married.” His response is as if it had never occurred to him, “Yes, I suppose it is.”
The basis for believing everything that follows about how they feel towards each other and the state of their marriage is covered by this and another line. George Sanders response can be taken as sarcastic/ironic (which is almost his trademark as an actor) or a realisation. It seems to me that it is more of the former and less of the latter.
Alex: Are you sure you know when I’m happy?
Katherine: No, ever since we left on this trip I’m not so sure. I realise for the first time that we are like strangers.
Alex: That’s right. After eight years of marriage it seems that we don’t know anything about each other.