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Italian Neo Realistic Films

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Re: Italian Neo Realistic Films

Postby kingrat » March 18th, 2013, 7:21 pm

Try to approach Journey to Italy (1954) without preconceptions if you can, ignoring the contemporary viewers who didn’t like it or the directors-in-training at Cahiers du Cinema who praised it to the skies. Susan Sontag reportedly introduced this film once in New York by calling it the greatest film of all time. That’s a heavy burden for any film to bear. Yes, the plot and structure and characterization are loose, and it’s easy to see how the New-Wave-to-be grasped that this left much more opportunity for a film to be all about the director. Whatever its historical importance, how well does it hold up today? There are textual problems; Martin Scorsese prefers the English-language version, but TCM showed the dubbed Italian version. Not hearing George Sanders’ own voice is unfortunate. In any event, the print TCM showed was excellent.

George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman play an English couple driving to the area around Naples to settle his uncle’s estate, which includes selling his villa. Neither is happy in the marriage, although we learn few specifics about them. What we do comes mostly from the dialogue rather than the mise-en-scene, which surprised me. The husband is snarky and critical and interested in other women; she’s mopey and depressed and had a friendship with a poet (a sensitive poet cliché; I’ve known many people who wrote poetry, few of them like this) which was probably innocent, but her husband resents it. For me, the great weakness of the film is that I didn’t much care whether this couple stayed together and had no real opinion about whether they would be happier together or apart. Compare this with The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, where Sanders is considerably nastier yet considerably more interesting, and his willingness to give up simple happiness with Angela Lansbury and later to give up intellectual partnership with Ann Dvorak comes as a real wrench. I cared much more about the nice Italian couple who looked after the villa, and I deeply regretted their inability to have children because they would obviously be loving parents.

A substantial portion of the film follows Ingrid Bergman as she does some sightseeing in the area, and here my reaction may be atypical because I was delighted to recognize places I had been: the antiquities museum in Naples, the cave of the sibyl and the ruined temple of Apollo in Cumae with a view out to the island of Ischia, and Pompeii. Granted, Pompeii is entirely free of other tourists when Ingrid visits, which will not be your experience. (Sorrento is a great base for exploring this area if you get the chance to go.) These are all great locations, and Rossellini could have spent even more time here if he had wanted to, as far as I'm concerned. There’s some fairly heavy use of symbolism in the Pompeii episode, but that works well enough. And if you’re going to mope and be unhappy, a beautifully situated Italian villa beats the heck out of anywhere else.

In 2013 not everyone will be thrilled with the film’s conclusion that a child is just what this marriage needs. Others might conclude that Ingrid needs a job. Or a kinder man. Or milk of magnesia. In any event, I did like the film, although it does not strike me as one of the all-time greats, and I respond more favorably to where Antonioni takes this approach to filmmaking. The earliest Antonioni film I’ve seen is Le Amiche (1955), so I don’t know how much of his approach is his own and how much he owes (some, surely) to Rossellini. However, Antonioni was an assistant on Visconti’s La Terra Trema, and you can see moments in that film which lead directly to L’Avventura.

I particularly liked Sanders' courtship of another woman in Capri, and also a scene when he returns, and Ingrid deliberately starts a conversation with him because she wants to be closer to him, but the conversation drives them further apart. This is well observed.

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Re: Italian Neo Realistic Films

Postby JackFavell » March 19th, 2013, 7:05 am

Well observed is a good phrase describing the movie. I think the greatness of it is that it draws no conclusions of it's own, like most neo-realistic films. This is why I like them very much, just as Alison said in her first post. They are not judgmental. We see the dynamics of a opposed to the romance of it, played out as in real life. Your partner walks in and says something that completely drives you away, but you and he are the only ones who know it, so innocuous is the comment to other people. We see how words, or the lack of words alienate them, they are helpless to really change, and then at the end we see how tenuous their marriage is.... are they coming together forever? is this just a brief moment like all the other moments in the film? Maybe you didn't care, but this kind of cinema shows people as they are, warts and all, Ingrid is not Ingrid Bergman, but a woman in a boring, stale deteriorating marriage, not a perfect creation of Hollywood and these things do happen. I was tremendously moved by the film, it's about day to day existence with another person, not the beginning, and maybe not quite the end. It provokes thought in a way that is different for me than other more standard films. I don't believe we are supposed to love the characters at the outset of the film, but instead to recognize ourselves in them, and it isn't pretty. It's a mode of self exploration to watch this film. What is good? What is bad? What is selfish? ultimately, what is love?

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Re: Italian Neo Realistic Films

Postby kingrat » March 19th, 2013, 12:45 pm

Fear doesn’t feel or look like a Rossellini film, but it does feel and look like a perfectly good film noir, so what’s the problem? Noir purists may not like the ending, although it’s very well shot. The long shot of Ingrid Bergman entering a dark corridor of the laboratory, then the lights coming on one by one, is just great. It would be fun to show this as a double feature with Sudden Fear and you could cast a Hollywood version of this script with Joan Crawford as the wife, Jack Palance as the husband, Gloria Grahame as the blackmailer, and Zachary Scott as the lover. Arguably, this is the best Bergman performance of the four Rossellini films shown last night, though I could also make a case for Stromboli, and the one closest to her great Hollywood roles.

The story of Fear, which is set in Germany, is simple. While the husband has been in prison during the war and then recovering in an institution later, the wife has been running his pharmaceutical plant, and apparently doing a darn good job, too. She’s also been having an affair, which she wants to end, now that her husband is back. A blackmailer has other ideas. I cared much more about the couple in this film than I did about the couple in Journey to Italy. The plot sharpens and defines the characters in Fear, just as the relative lack of plot blurs the characters in Journey to Italy.

It must be significant that in all four of the Bergman/Rossellini films shown last night, Ingrid plays an unhappy wife. Granted, a happy wife is not usually the most interesting role for an actress. In two of the four films the couple reconciles; in a third, the wife symbolically gives up her attempt to escape her marriage. In the fourth, the marriage comes to a much more drastic resolution. Stromboli is the one I like best. TCM has done a great service in showing these films together.

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Re: Italian Neo Realistic Films

Postby charliechaplinfan » March 19th, 2013, 3:25 pm

I haven't seen Fear, I would watch anything he's made for curiosity if nothing else. Journey to Italy was not what I expected when I watched it but it didn't matter, it was refreshing (I had that self same thought about Pompeii) but if I didn't know Rossellini and had tuned in to watch Bergman and Sanders together being only accustomed to their American work I'd have been I'd have been confused. Apparently the filming was not a happy experience for Sanders, he didn't work well with Rossellini who's directing methods were haphazard to say the least.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: Italian Neo Realistic Films

Postby moira finnie » April 12th, 2014, 10:07 am

Fernando drew my attention to an interesting short film about De Sica and Neo-Realism, comparing Selznick's takes and De Sica's in Stazione Termini (1953) with Jennifer Jones & Montgomery Clift. This analysis, which was created for Sight and Sound magazine in 2013, may be of interest here:

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