Quest Status #695 / 1000
TSPDT Rank #75As Voyage to Italy opens, the first thing we see is a shaky handheld view of the open road in the Italian countryside. A train charging through the empty landscape. Then an English married couple (Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders) sitting together in the car, looking uncomfortable to be with each other. There's no musical cues here, no real plot progression, just a little exposition. The couple is going to Naples to sell a house that belonged to the man's uncle, then head home as soon as possible. Then we see their faces, and listen to the sounds of the car driving down the road.
If you've seen a certain number of Hollywood movies from the 1950s, then maybe that moment will feel as shocking to you as it did to me. In the context of the time in which it was made, Journey to Italy did something truly unusual. It's not neorealism, it's a travel film about what travel is really like sometimes. It's about what happens a married couple goes on vacation in a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage, then find out that they never really got to know each other. From a contemporary standpoint, this exploration of a marriage on the rocks feels tame and dated, but it still has a few timeless moments that go for the gut.
What's more, Voyage to Italy isn't just about a failing marriage. For much of the film, Bergman and Sanders are actually apart, contemplating whether or not anything can still be salvaged from the ruins. In a stroke of allegorical brilliance, Rossellini devotes a lot of time to Bergman's sightseeing "pilgrimages" in and around Naples, as she drives through the city streets and takes guided tours through various museum, ruins and tombs. We also see Sanders take his own solo trip in an attempt to sow some wild oats before its too late - even contemplating spending the night with a prostitute! As a whole, Voyage to Italy is a flawed and uneven film, but at the same time it's a daring, emotionally-charged travelogue unlike any other. It's a movie that eluded me for a long time, so I'm glad that I was finally able to see it!