by Michelle Fryou
With all due respect to Donald Spoto and his otherwise superb biography of Ingrid Bergman, I feel his dismissive attitude towards the films she made with Roberto Rossellini was a bit harsh. He's entitled to his opinions, of course, and clearly he didn't like them. I, however, would like to offer another and quite different opinion of one of their collaborations, Europa 51.
The tape I saw was dubbed (none too well), so you have to make certain allowances. Ingrid's voice is her own, thank Heaven, but poor Giulietta Masina! The voice chosen to dub hers has been described as sounding like Shelley Winters. Personally, I thought it sounded like Mrs Kravitz, from TV's Bewitched. Either way, it's something you have to get past.
The film concerns the behaviour of a well-to-do woman (Ingrid) whose son attempts suicide and subsequently dies. She seeks redemption through "love thy neighbor". Suddenly aware of those who are less fortunate, she sees them for the first time, as individuals instead of only in relation to how they might serve her. Along her quest for some kind of peace, the advantages of Communism are presented to her, which she ultimately rejects for its failure to nurture the soul. She comes to believe it is the power of the human spirit, in all its variations, which unites us. Only in accepting humanity as it is, without trying to change it, can we become a true brotherhood of man.
So, what does this enlightenment get her? A one-way ticket to an insane asylum, that's what! Her perplexed family, who cannot fathom why she would seek out, help, and draw comfort from the poor and downtrodden, decide to have her committed. That's the kicker of this movie, the thing that lingers with you after it's over. What does it say about society when we label someone crazy because they've dared to move beyond the prescribed confines of race, class, etc. and embrace all of humanity on its own terms? Occasionally we may allow ourselves to envision a utopian world in which we all exist in harmony, but inevitably we dismiss such notions as wishful thinking. When someone actually subscribes to such idealism, there is a tendency to view them with scepticism and question their grasp of reality. "Sorry, honey, but that's not just the way the world works".
Ingrid's performance as an initially not very likeable, self-absorbed woman to a haunted soul, searching for answers, is quite moving and utterly believable. Blessed with a wonderfully expressive face, she uses it to great effect in conveying her character's emotional transformation.
The last shot of the film is particularly poignant. Having finally broken free from the prison of society's dictates, she finds herself in a literal prison, separated from the very people she tried to help and with whom she found comfort. It's a heart-breaking ending to a deeply moving film, one which resonates long after the final credits.
The tape I saw contains an introduction by Isabella Rossellini, who neglects to mention this wasn't the only production her parents had going on at the time - they were also expecting Isabella and her twin sister Ingrid. She ends her introduction by sweetly saying "I hope you enjoy Papa and Mama's film". Well, Isabella, I for one, enjoyed it greatly.
Originally published in Mary Hutching's The Ingrid Chronicles on Matt Cawley's The Complete Ingrid Bergman Page
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