Friday, 29 May 2015

Voyage in Italy (Viaggio in Italia) (1953)

Viaggio in Italia
Okay, I admit it. I did not get this film. Someone will have to explain it to me because I am lost.

“Viaggio in Italia” is a Rossellini film about an English couple on a journey to Italy. That is in fact the English title of the movie, “Journey to Italy”. The English couple is no other than Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders as Katherine and Alex Joyce and that should be enough to generate some interest. Both have a very impressive track record and their sheer presence should be enough on its own.  It almost is. I love the scathing sarcasm of Sanders and Bergman is great when she is pissed at somebody and in this movie they have ample opportunity for both.

My problem is that I do not understand the context.

Alex and Katherine has been married for some years and are now in Italy to sell the villa of an uncle. They have hardly arrived in Italy before they manage to annoy each other enough to realize that they actually despise each other. The reasons are trivial, really. Katherine is disgusted and hurt by Alex sarcasm and Alex in turn is bored and put off by what he sees as Katherine’s refusal of him. For an hour and twenty minutes they go around poking at each other when what they really needed to do is having a good long talk. I suspect Rossellini wants to oppose Northern European distance to Mediterranean openness. Certainly the two of them seem afraid to be frank with each other and when they are they are immediately rebuffed by the other. Especially Alex in classic Sanders style is knife sharp.

So, instead of talking they find their own pastimes. Katherines visits all the sights of the Napoli region. Art museums, catacombs, volcanos and Pompeii. The fumaroles in the volcano are pretty awesome, the art is spectacular and Pompeii is, well, truly awesome. I have been there and it is mind-blowing. But I fail to see the deeper meaning. Is it an exposé of Italian culture? Is it something about showing that life is bigger, much bigger, than small minded bickering? No idea.

Alex heads off to Capri to get laid. Unfortunately his lady friends are just that, friends and there is a great scene where the particular girl he has his eyes one tells him that it is going so much better with her husband. That is a great long face Mr. Sanders! Failing that he tries clubs and prostitutes, but it is not really working. At least he realizes that this is below him.

Returning to each other you would think that they have found out that they actually need or maybe even love each other, but no. Pure acid between them. Divorce time, hatred, misery. They get stuck in traffic, watch a religious spectacle. Kathrine is getting sucked up in it, they find each other and are reconciled. Just like that. Bum.


In Chinese I would say “Ha-ba…”.

Here are my lame suggestions to what just happened.

1.       Religious intervention. They needed a miracle to save their marriage and just got it. Deux ex machine.

2.       Life is bigger than bickering. Seeing all that greatness around them made them realize their troubles are peanuts.

3.       Sucking up enough Italian spirit made them shed their northern inhibitions and find their love.

4.       They knew all along they loved each other, they just need to realize it.

5.       They are bipolar and jump from one extreme to the next. Five minutes later they are going to hate each other again.

6.       The plot is just idiotic and gives us a surprise ending when we thought these two would just settle this and get on with their lives.

7.       The Catholic Church does not really believe in divorce so their condition for allowing filming a procession was that they stayed together.

I suspect the answer is somewhere else entirely. Usually when critics are super elated about a movie it is because nobody really figured out what the story was about and the movie is therefore awesome.

What I did like was the filming of Bergman and Sanders. There are a lot of facial expressions going on. Bergman in the catacombs or Sanders getting deflated on Capri are awesome to watch. Watching Rossellini film Bergman is like Sternberg filming Dietrich. You just know they had something going.

Also I liked all the scenery. Italy is a pretty and interesting place. I just failed to see the connection with the story.

Before I started the review my intention was actually to discuss dubbing. I figured I would have nothing much to say about the movie itself, but now I see that I actually did, so I will keep it short. I hate dubbing. Dubbing in the sense of changing the spoken dialogue to another language that is. It is just so stupid. Maybe it because we usually do not dub movies in Denmark, but it really annoys me. In this case the DVD I had bought turned out to be dubbed in Italian. Apparently that is one of the two original editions. Two minutes of Sanders and Bergman speaking Italian was enough for me. I had find an English version. Imagine that, George Sanders, the epitome of British sarcasm, speaking Italian! There should be fines for that sort of thing.

Please help me. What is going on in this movie? Am I just an idiot?


  1. I saw it about a year ago and I didn't really get it either but I liked it anyway.

    (Part of that may be because I've been to that part of Italy and I very much enjoyed seeing some things I saw as a tourist in the 1980s. Also - Ingrid Bergman. Also - George Sanders. Also - Rossellini. Also - I'm a sucker for pretty much any old Italian movie.)

    1. The tourist element is definitely interesting. I could even forget that I did not understand the movie when I saw all those spectular sights. Unfortunately in hindsight it is my lack of understanding that frustrates me.
      I just cannot accept that this is just a story about a couply who is about to split up, but then all of sudden get back together. There must be more to it.

  2. "Usually when critics are super elated about a movie it is because nobody really figured out what the story was about and the movie is therefore awesome."


    I saw this as Rosselini's way to pay for a sightseeing trip around Italy for him and his new wife.

    1. This is a suspicion I often have when I read extatic reviews of obscure movies. Sometimes I later found out that I was just too dense to understand but in other cases it seems like a smokescreen to hide their own confusion.

      Maybe Rossellini was under contract with the Itaian ministry of tourism. Save your marriage, come to Italy.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I've not seen the film but my vote goes to number 5. Maybe number 7? Doesn't sound like it's for me.

    Almost all Italian films of the period were dubbed. Cinecitta, where they were shot, had been built in the silent era and had no sound stages. The dialogue - even for Italian actors - was dubbed in in post-production. I agree that it is disconcerting but we have to expect it. But that's the reason there are frequently stars from all over the place in them - they could speak in their native languages and no one would be the wiser.

    1. I like number 7 as well.
      I am actually okay with dubbing when it is the actor herself repeating the words said during filming. That is a commin enough tecnique as still widely used today to improve sound quality. But if another actor speaks, or even worse somebody speaks in a different language part of the movie is lost. Bad examples are English dubbed Hong Kong movies, but even when sone with skill it annoys me. The producer assumes the audience are idiots who cannot or will not read subtitles to understand the movie and so in the proccess throw away a significant part of the movie. Legend tells of John Cleese playing a part in a German movie. He rehearsed his lines in German to perfection, but was told upon filming that it really did not matter. In Germany John Cleese sounds like the actor who dubs him, so even if he had learned to speak German they would still dub him. I other words they did not care at all for his audible acting. Shame on them.

  5. I liked this one, but you're making me start to wonder why I did! May need a reviewing on this one. I will throw in that I think Rossellini's Paisan is a great movie.

    1. I liked both Paisan and Rome, Open City, which is why I was disappointed with this one. Or confused. I understood those earlier movies, but I do not understand this one.