Tuesday, July 9, 2013

#674: Europe '51

(Roberto Rossellini, 1952)

Europe '51 is one of the oddest films by a major director in the Collection. The movie is a cross between an upperclass melodrama and a religious parable; at times I was reminded of The Passion of Joan of Arc, All That Heaven Allows, The Flowers of St. Francis, and Secret Sunshine, four very different Criterion films. The story centers around Ingrid Bergman's self-absorbed society lady character, a woman more concerned with her dinner party going off without a hitch than with her son's anxiety and need for attention. When tragedy strikes, she falls into a deep depression, only broken when she transforms her life into a sacrifice for other people.

The strangest thing about Europe '51 is the push and pull between the heavy-handed political statement and the equally purple soap opera of Bergman's family life deteriorating. The politics of the film are notably more engaging than the melodrama, mainly because Rossellini doesn't seem especially interested in the latter. His camera work is reminiscent of Vittorio De Sica's in his earlier The Children Are Watching Us, but it's not nearly as visually appealing and often feels more like a TV drama than something made by the same person who filmed the memorable tuna fishing in Stromboli. His anointing of Bergman with all types of martyr imagery is equally ham-fisted, if somewhat more enjoyable.

Europe '51 is the only film in the upcoming Rossellini/Bergman boxset that is not available on Hulu, and it's probably no coincidence that it's by far the least important or impressive. That said, it still has its occasional charms, and is worth viewing for any fan of the two. It also features an unexpected treat in seeing Ingrid Bergman and Guiletta Masina share the screen, which alone makes it a special moment in film history.

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