Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ingrid Bergman and Italian Neorealism

Ingrid Bergman - Europa '51

This post is part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Jill at Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael at ScribeHard on Film.

"People today only know how to live in society, not in community.  The soul of society is the law.  The soul of community is love." - Roberto Rossellini

Ingrid Bergman is widely known for her roles as Ilsa in Casablanca  and as Alicia Huberman in Hitchcock's great Notorious.  However, after this period of film-making in Hollywood, she collaborated with Roberto Rossollini on a film called Stromboli, terra di dio.  During the filming they had a widely scandelous affair and she became pregnant.  She eventually moved to Italy, married him and had a son.  (Later they had twin daughters, one of which is actress Isabella Rossallini.)  Together they collaborated on a total of five movies.

Two of these films--Stromboli and Europa '51--are both being shown on Turner Classic Movies as part of their Summer Under the Stars month-long salute.  They will air on Wednesday, 8/29/2012 in the afternoon...set your DVRs!  These films are part of a film-making movement that occurred in Italy immediately after WWII called Italian Neorealism.  Some of my all-time favorite films are from this period of film-making.  So please explore a little deeper with me into the world of passionate film-making.

Italian Neorealism

"If you ever have any doubt about the power of movies to effect change in the world...to interact with life and fortify the soul...then study the example of Neorealism." - Martin Scorsese

This--my fellow cinema friends--is the only incentive one should need to explore the world of Italian Neorealism.  Marty Scorsese himself is a huge fan and his work has been influenced by these directors.  So...what was Neorealism?  A genre?  A style?  A set of rules?

The best overview I've ever seen on Italian Neorealism is found in Martin Scorsese's four-hour documentary 'Il mio viaggio in Italia' (My Voyage to Italy.)  It's a retrospective of Italian cinema in the post-war 40s, 50s and early 60s...a large portion devoted to Italian Neorealism.  The whole thing is on YouTube (see the link below.)  You don't have to watch all of it, I'll give you minute-marks where Scorsese discusses the two films here with Ingrid Bergman.  However...I hope you'll watch all of it...I urge you to watch all of it.  Who better than Scorsese to discuss Neorealism and Italian cinema.  The documentary is broken up into two parts, each about two hours each.  Watch one part then the following night, watch the other!

There are a ton of wonderful films discussed in this documentary.  In the documentary, Scorsese answers the question I asked above (What is Neorealism?):
"Well, more than anything else it was a response to a terrible moment in Italy's history.  The Neorealists had to communicate to the world everything their country had gone through.  They needed to dissolve the barrier between documentary and fiction and in the process they permanently changed the rules of movie-making.
Altogether, these movies amounted to a prayer--that the rest of the world look closely at the Italian people and see their essential humanity.  That's why they had to be truthful.  There was no choice.  So Neorealism wasn't just a question of making the best of a bad situation...although it was that, too.  No sets?  Use real locations.  No money to pay real actors?  Use non-actors.  And since the people and the places would come right out of the landscape...so would the stories.  I mean, in fact there were sets and actors in many of these films, but what's important is that for the first time illusion took a backseat to reality."
To me, Neorealism films are sometimes tough to watch, usually an emotional experience (at least for me) and always a great movie-watching experience.

Both films are given a 1.5 star rating (out of 4) by Leonard Maltin, but I think they both deserve a viewing, if for nothing else to see Ms. Bergman in something other than what we're familiar with. Scorsese in his documentary admits that there are issues with Europa '51 (including poor dubbing by the Italian-speaking secondary characters) but says that the movie supersedes these technical issues.

Because there's not much more that I can say above and beyond what Scorsese does with these two films, I'll just point you to the YouTube video along with the minute marks where he begins discussing each film.

Stromboli, terra di Dio

Scorsese begins talking about this film at the 0:56 minute mark.

Europa '51

Scorsese begins talking about this film at the 1:18 minute mark.  For me this is a quite moving film as it deals with service, love and selflessness.


  1. What a refreshing take on Bergman. I knew little about her, it seems. Thanks Joel.

  2. I watched Stromboli for the first time today... after I'd read your post earlier :) Understanding this movement in cinema certainly added depth to my viewing and I really appreciated the movie much more.

    1. Awesome! I recorded and will hopefully be watching it sometime soon.