Much derided at the time of its original release, Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 drama has been restored by Martin Scorsese’s film preservation initiative and is ripe for reassessment. I had never seen the film before, but it does appear that the reason the film failed on initial release was in large part due to the public’s negative reaction to Rossellini’s offscreen romance with leading lady Ingrid Bergman, in a move that threatened to ruin her career at its very peak. Both parties were married to other people at the time, and it was years before either was able to win over their once-loyal audiences.
The film itself is an incredibly strange, melodramatic affair that sees Bergman’s Ukrainian refugee marry an Italian soldier to get herself out of a refugee camp after World War II. He duly whisks her off to his idyllic rustic home, that transpires to be an all-but deserted volcanic island, where a dispirate collection of fishermen and goat-herders eke out a meagre living in the shaodw of a perpetually erupting volcano. Once a wealthy woman, Karin (Bergman) is immediately shunned by the local community, her attempts to befriend the local priest fail, and her every move is scandalised by the community. All the while her husband heads to the oceans to fish, eventually bringing in money, which Karin promptly steals and attempts to elope with another man, only to fall foul to the insurmountable volcano.
I found much to love and admire in the film, which is gorgeously photographed – not least during the incredibly dramatic sea-fishing sequences, and has been beautifully restored to its former glory. A Blu-ray release from the BFI in the UK is imminent, which should be the perfect opportunity to introduce this little-seen film to a whole new generation of cinephiles, and for my money is thoroughly deserving of rediscovery.