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Classic Film Masterpiece -  Journey to Italy

Journey to Italy Starring Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders

Calling film lovers, fashion darlings and archaeologists! Move over Casablanca. How about watching the film that paved the way for neo-realism in modern cinema? An intimate, emotional, husband-and-wife-warring, classic film masterpiece in locations that will make you want to run away to Capri and Naples and eat spicy pasta while admiring Vesuvius.

The new wave film jewel is Journey to Italy (Viaggio in Italia in Italian) starring Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders and the ancient wonders of Pompeii and Naples with Roberto Rossellini as its meticulous, revolutionary director. The film is loosely based on Colette's novel Duo and has been voted one of the 50 greatest films of all time by Sight and Sound Magazine.

Journey to Italy Starring Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders

Rossellini didn't permit his actors to rehearse before scenes and the film is largely improvised. The critics hated it! I bet they couldn't handle all that emotional honesty. Rosselini revels in showing feelings and emotions just as they happen and that would have been revelatory in the fifties. Now Journey to Italy is considered one of the great new-wave films that ushered in modern film.

I will forgive you if you have never heard of this important film. The English language version was only restored in 2012. A poignant, history-filled culture trip to Italy will make a marvellous change from Casablanca.

This rare monochrome jewel of a film directed by Ingrid Bergman's second husband is an atmospheric, sophisticated love letter to the star at the height of her loveliness and screen allure. It's also a very interesting look at marriage and what it takes to make it go wrong and then, at the very last moment work again as if by a miracle after a profound experience in the ruins of Pompeii. The film is notable for the scenes that take place at the Naples Museum, The Phlegraen Fields, Fontanelle Cemetry and Pompeii.

Is Roberto Rossellini asking us to think about our place in the world, to connect to our ancestors and perhaps to be less small and petty? To muse on art, beauty and the eternal?

How many films offer romance, 2,000 years of history and Ingrid Bergman too? The film explores themes around death, fertility, petrification and eternity and wasn't understood when it first came out because of the economy of style and the way emotions are internalised, however brilliantly by its leads.    

Bergman possesses an extraordinary ability to illuminate the screen and she looks and dresses like a worldly goddess. The film came out in 1954 and is now a must-watch on the BFI Player.  The British Film Institute, BFI,  offers a free trial before signing up for a paid subscription to support making great films accessible to all. Find out more here.  BFI Player.

Watch Ingrid Berman smoulder, bicker, scheme and wow in fifties haute fashion as she sulks, spars and tests her husband, the magnetic George Sanders, amid the ruins of Pompeii and in Naples. The latter seems to be brimming either with pregnant women, funerals or processions for saints. How very Catholic.  Sanders who may or may not be related to the Russian Tzar, made his name playing plenty of Hollywood bad boys. Here he is a match to rival Bogie for the affection of Bergman who is sensuous, sensitive, intelligent and very demanding.

Journey to Italy with George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman

By contrast, Sanders is a suave, chilly, workaholic, upper-class Englishman dressed in tweed or formal suits even in the heat of an Italian summer. He is also a man who hides his feelings, appears inscrutable and drives Bergman crazy by appearing unknowable. Eat your heart out 'sexy Rexy'. No wonder George Sanders was once married to Zsa Zsa Gabor and then her sister, briefly.

The scene where he hesitates before picking up a prostitute outside a grand hotel and then changes his mind is one of the many highlights of this film about a married couple who discovers after eight years of marriage that they don't know each other and they seem to have no idea how to communicate when they are thrown together on a trip to Italy to sell a beloved family home.

The Tension Thrills Between George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman in Journey to Italy Directed by Roberto Rossellini

Roberto Rossellini has a wonderful talent for storytelling with a vivid sense of time, culture and place.

Journey to Italy is an intelligent, sophisticated film and Ingrid Bergman's odyssey into the ancient history of Italy lifts the film beyond romance. The dialogue is full of tension, comedy and longing, juxtaposed with extraordinary footage of Italy in the fifties which lends the film an air of historical and documentary gravitas.

The Procession of the Saint in Naples in the Film Journey to Italy

Journey to Italy is also a treasure for fashion and costume lovers. Bergman fills every frame, although Sanders does too in his immaculate James Bond suits! She wears the creme de la creme of haute fashion from animal print peplum jackets to silk scarves embellished with butterflies and tailored suits which suit her willowy, catwalk frame.

The only bit of the film that might be hard to swallow is the idea that any man could climb into a very small single bed alone, let alone the imposing George Sanders when he has Ingrid Bergman burning for him on the sofa!

Of course, that is the point. Can a 2,000-year-old love story transform a marriage ready to implode?

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