Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City was the first non-English-language film that I watched that sparked my interest in foreign films, and I was confused when I saw that it was vote number one hundred and eighty-three on the Sight + Sound list when the English-language Journey to Italy was ranked at number forty-one. It has been some time since I have watched the former, but I knew it had a similar effect on cinema as Breathless and The 400 Blows, but they did not ask for my opinion for this list.
I did not know what to expect when I sat down to watch Journey to Italy, aside from a director I respected and a lead actress, Ingrid Bergman, that I have adored so I kept an open mind. The film is about a couple played by Bergman and George Sanders, who find themselves truly alone for the first time in their eight years of marriage as they travel to manage an inheritance in Italy.
They quickly learn that while they are successful partners among their friends, they struggle when they can only lean on each other. They are constantly bickering, taking cheap shots, and they are seeing a fissure forming in their relationship that they had ignored previously. It is not until this time, separate from work and social life, that they recognize their incompatibility.
If you only sit back and watch the film, you will see a travelogue that highlights the landscapes and treasure of southern Italy and something that resembles a run-of-the-mill Hollywood drama; you will walk away content and a trifle confused. But there is something deeper in this film that gets down into the soul of love and humanity, if it is something that you seek.
Many of us are rather selfish creatures who are often blinded by our own existence, unable to see the tragedy and the joy that surrounds us, or we try and play that against ourselves to shine a spotlight on our own, and that isn’t really what it is all about. We are not a large group of individuals or small collectives that exist separate from the rest; rather, we all share from a common pool of that tragedy and joy, and we would be better off if we did share it. Leave it to fester and ferment and you will be left with a gassy mess that no one wants to be around.
Beneath a bland story, Journey to Italy is a vehicle to repair faltering relationships and emotions, a lesson that we might quickly forget if we don’t let it dig a hole in our brains to smack us a little when we try and compartmentalize, which, I suppose, is why it is a great picture.