Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ingrid Bergman, Alexander Knox, Ettore Giannini, Giulietta Masina, Teresa Pellati, Marcella Rovena, Tina Perna, Sandro Franchina, Maria Zanoli
Written by: Roberto Rossellini, Sandro De Feo, Mario Pannunzio, Ivo Perilli, Brunello Rondi
Directed by: Roberto Rossellini
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English
Running Time: 85
Date: 11/03/1954

Europa '51 (1952)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Saint Ingrid

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Rossellini and Bergman made a version of Joan of Arc together that I haven't seen, but it seems like it would be a great companion piece to Europa '51. In it, Bergman plays Irene Girard, a wealthy wife and mother who enters the movie fussing about a party she and her husband are throwing. Her young son Michel yearns for her attention, but she's more devoted to her guests. He falls down the steps and injures himself, and it comes out that he may have tried to kill himself. He dies later in the hospital, leaving Irene totally distraught.

A friend informs her of a sick family, and she volunteers to buy the expensive medicine she needs. She continues doing good deeds and helping out the downtrodden, until -- naturally -- she is institutionalized. Like Joan of Arc, when questioned, she provides only the most elusive answers. Until, that is, she explains that her love of others spring from the hatred of herself.

This is probably Rossellini's most atypical movie, more highly symbolic than merely observant, though Bergman's extraordinary performance helps ground it in human suffering. It's a magnificent work. The wonderful Giulietta Masina co-stars in a small role as a single, unemployed -- but cheerful -- mother of six.

At last, in 2013, the Criterion Collection released an essential box set on DVD and Blu-ray of three of the Rossellini/Bergman films (plus one short). The disc comes with two very different versions. The English version runs 109 minutes and the Italian version runs 118 minutes. I watched the latter. The extras include a 40-minute exploration of the differences between both versions.

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