Many of us hold our regular visits to the cinema during our youth in high regards. Whether it was a weekly visit to the matinee double features with friends, or the frantic anticipation of standing in line for the next big Franchise of the Day flick, we have fond memories of going to the theater as youngsters. For filmmaker Roberto Rossellini, though, growing up ’round a moviehouse was a slightly different – if not more desirable – experience. His father – who went by the nickname of “Beppino” – literally built the very first movie theater in Rome, which gave young Roberto an unlimited free pass to shows.
Needless to say, that is something all film geeks envision their upbringings in some weird alternate reality – as we like to pretend growing up in such a manner would enable us to actually become bona fide moviemakers. And, in Rossellini’s instance, he did. After establishing himself as a master of what we now call neorealism in the ’40s, Rossellini’s work caught the eye of famed actress Ingrid Bergman – and the Swedish actress wrote what has quite probably become the most famous fan letter ever to her new director of choice. Bergman offered up her services to Rossellini as an actress for future projects – which resulted in five film collaborations between the two (to say nothing of the famous controversy that beget once the two – both of whom were married to others – started an affair).
Three of those features are presented here in 3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman – an outstanding four-disc Blu-ray set from The Criterion Collection, which begins with Stromboli (Stromboli, Terra di Dio, 1950), wherein Bergman plays a Lithuanian immigrant who, as our story opens, is interred in an Italian internment camp – displaced from her native grounds. Falling in love with a local POW fisherman (Mario Vitale), the two soon marry – and head off to her new hubby’s home, the island of Stromboli. There, the foreign-born heroine experiences isolation and depression, as she combats the simplistic lifestyles of the locals and the ignorance, hostility, and animosity that go with them. The fact that the actual volcano erupted during filmmaking only adds to the hopeless feeling of despair Rossellini weaves here – which is presented in both the original 100min Italian-language cut and the 106-minute English-language version.
Europe ’51 (Europa ’51, 1952) – which is also presented in its original Italian as well as alternate English-language versions (running 118 and 109 minutes, respectively) – finds Bergman as a latter-day St. Francis of Assisi in post-war Rome, where she lives with her husband (Canadian actor Alexander Knox) and their son, Michele. But the household dwindles some after young Michele’s death, and our heroine sets about dedicating her time, money, and efforts to help the poorer children of the area after she meets and takes comfort in the company of local Communist Ettore Giannini. The third and final film in this set, Journey to Italy (Viaggio in Italia, 1954) – which was filmed in English – is widely regarded by some as the quintessential Bergman/Rossellini collaboration. This one finds Bergman as the wife of George Sanders, both of whom are keen to sell a house near Naples they’ve recently inherited. But as soon as they’re there, their marriage starts to have problems. Naturally.
All three titles are presented in 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfers that preserve the five different versions accordingly. In the case of some cuts, the quality isn’t Grade A material, while it excels in the instance of others. All-in-all, Criterion has done a splendid job presenting viewers with the best-possible incarnations of these neorealist classics, and the LPCM Mono soundtracks deliver their goods (and moods) admirably. English (SDH) subtitles are available for each film.
Special features are aplenty here, too. All three titles include an interview with Italian film critic Adriano Apra and vintage introductions to the films by Rossellini himself (recorded for French TV in 1963), while Stromboli and Europe ’51 – the less popular ones of the lot – are limited to an additional interview with Elena Dagrada (Europe ’51) and a documentary. It’s Journey to Italy, however, that collects the earnings at the bonus materials table – which is where that fourth disc I mentioned earlier comes into play. From an audio commentary, documentaries, short films, archival footage, and even interviews with Martin Scorsese as well as Ingrid and Isabella Rossellini (oh, be still, my beating heart), this title has more goodies going on than an angry Italian cab driver can shake a fist at.