Viaggio in Italia [Voyage to Italy / Journey to Italy]
d. Roberto Rossellini / 1954 / Italy / 97 mins
Viewed at: The Box @ FACT (Liverpool, UK)
Roberto Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia is a strange film indeed. Wooden performances, unsympathetic characterisation and a paper-thin storyline make for stilted drama indeed. And THAT ending. Oh deary me.
And yet, there’s something strangely hypnotizing about this film and something engaging about its treatment of ‘time’, that notoriously abstract gauge through which we all seem able to move freely, but within which we are nevertheless trapped. Throughout the film, Rossellini introduces a series of sub-plots involving different notions of time, perhaps suggesting that each passing moment belongs not to a single timeline, but to a myriad of interconnected histories that ebb and flow across each other, never truly settling down to become ‘history’ itself.
Rossellini’s two central characters are a modern Western European couple played by George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman, transplanted to rural Italy and an inherited villa in the shadow of Vesuvius, a stone’s throw away from the doomed city of Pompeii. Trapped within their own personal histories, together but never truly in synch, the couple are forced to confront the vagaries of the agrarian peasantry, as well as the geological and social history of their surroundings, from the pall of the physical landscape to the spectre of Imperial Rome and the residents of Pompeii, who are ‘trapped’ in time, quite literally.
Although surrounded by various forms of ‘history’, the couple don’t seem to have a past of their own. When they discuss moments from their shared history, it is only in passing, and Rossellini seems unwilling to allow his audience time to understand these characters by understanding their past. Sanders’ character is pragmatic, serious and conservative, whilst Bergman’s is passionate, fanciful and romantic. At no point do the couple seem to be on the same trajectory, only adding to the incongruity of the films finale.
Having watched Viaggio in Italia as part of the Film and Philosophy course at FACT, course leader David Sorfa described it as a ‘deeply unsatisfactory film’ in many ways. It’s hard not to agree.
Death and poetry in Viaggio in Italia: