The real-life and reel-life union of Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman created much controversy during the early 1950s. Viewed today, their film collaborations emerge as flawed but intriguing commentaries on the universal human condition.
This Criterion Collection DVD/Blu-ray offering packages three of the couple’s feature films: “Stromboli” (1950), “Europe ’51” (1952) and “Journey to Italy” (1954). All films share a common bond of casting Bergman as a neurotic, anguished foreigner in a troubled marriage who finds herself adrift in an Italy she cannot comprehend and which is unable to absorb her.
While she is not entirely plausible as a desperate Lithuanian refugee married to a simple Sicilian fisherman in “Stromboli,” Bergman effectively plumbs harsh emotional resonance as an American socialite who responds to tragedy with obsessive altruism in “Europe ’51” and as a brittle Englishwoman re-examining her priorities in “Journey to Italy” – the latter film is helped considerably by casting the droll George Sanders as her unhappy husband.
Each of the films is burdened with rickety story structures and abrupt character shifts, a problem aggravated by Rossellini’s penchant for improvisational filmmaking. The inept English dubbing and hack-chop editing for the U.S. versions of “Stromboli” and “Europe ’51” made significant changes to the director’s original intentions that doomed their initial American releases to failure; both films are presented with their original Italian versions, which are superior. (“Journey to Italy” only comes in English.)
Among the numerous special features in this DVD offering is “The Chicken,” an uncharacteristically amusing short directed by Rossellini that proved Bergman could also play light comedy. Missing from this collection, sadly, are the Rossellini-Bergman films “Fear” and “Joan of Arc at the Stake,” neither of which has ever been released in the U.S. in any commercial home entertainment format. Hopefully, the Criterion Collection folks will rectify that void in the near future.