Journey to Italy

Viaggio in Italia

Roberto Rossellini, Italy, 1954, Les Films Sans Frontières


A bourgeois couple, Alexander and Katherine Joyce travel to Naples on business and take time to visit the surrounding area. It offers them a moment of intimacy, where they are together and face to face with who they really are. Katherine makes a series of visits to sites that offer her encounters which upset her and change her way of thinking about life, without Alexander understanding the impact these moments are having. At the moment when they are most emotionally distant from each – at the moment when the word ‘divorce’ has been said for the first time, a friend tells them that a discovery is taking place in the ruins of Pompeii. This discovery puts the couple in lower status in the face of this discovery in real time, as it happens. The editing and piecing together of the two registers of the story show us that the scene was filmed on two separate occasions: The ‘documentary’ moments – whether real or staged, have been recorded for us by the camera. The characters sometimes watch the archaeology being revealed there in front of them, sometimes look at their friend explaining what they are seeing. This places the world against the couple.  Rossellini’s direction stitches the reality and fiction together, like the wind that blows through Ingrid Bergman’s hair. The discoveries – first an arm, then legs – is it a group? No, it’s a couple. It’s almost too perfect for the situation, and if we manage to believe it, it’s thanks to the length of the scene and the depth of truth that the actors invest in their performance. This inverted mirror is highlighted by the music at it swells, as Katherine sobs, finding herself face to face with this woman and man from a distant past, doomed to spend eternity frozen together. Katherine suddenly moves to get away from this place, forcing her husband away in the shot. As they are trapped in a social situation they draw back in together, which she comes to dominate, then he returns into shot, as she leaves. The end of the sequence is a negotiation between the camera and the characters, trying to keep them in the frame together. It’s a pan, accompanying them on the staircase, bringing them together back to back, him behind her. The distance between them is significant as it shows a last attempt at bringing them back together. By playing this sequence out in the ruins a of civilisation long past, placing the characters against the cannon of history is a serious choice, it links this bourgeois drama with a more tragic question that has implications for all.