Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ingrid Bergman, Mario Vitale, Renzo Cesana, Mario Sponzo
Written by: Sergio Amidei, Gian Paolo Callegari, Art Cohn, Renzo Cesana, Fˇlix Morli—n, based on a story by Roberto Rossellini
Directed by: Roberto Rossellini
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 106
Date: 02/15/1950

Stromboli (1950)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Volcanic Love

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Stromboli was the first of the five feature films (and one short) that Ingrid Bergman made with Roberto Rossellini. Two years earlier, Bergman wrote the following to Rossellini: "I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only 'ti amo,' I am ready to come and make a film with you." This led to their working relationship, as well a stormy romantic relationship, a marriage, and children. It also led to an international scandal, as both left their previous spouses. Perhaps as a result of this, or because of other factors, none of the films was particularly well-received either critically or commercially. But they remain an object of fascination for cinephiles.

Stromboli is a fairly melodramatic piece, often overwrought, but still quite powerful. Bergman plays Karen, a Lithuanian refugee at the end of WWII. She meets a simple Italian fisherman and agrees to marry him to escape her circumstances. Unfortunately, his home, the island of Stromboli, isn't much better. It's a volcanic island, all black rock. The sole industry is fishing, and no one has any money. The people are simple and don't trust Karen, and she's quickly outcast. Merely speaking to another man brings big trouble. Karen decides she must escape by any means necessary, and she winds up wandering around the volcanic wastelands, cursing the heavens.

Rossellini's famous method was his realistic observation of human stories, but clearly his and Bergman's passionate, troubled affair came into this and all the other films in this series. The movie fairly weeps with longing and anguish, and Bergman is ridiculously beautiful among the barren landscape, far more beautiful than her character realistically should have been. It sometimes seems over-the-top, but taken into account with its history and behind-the-scenes drama, as well as the rest of the series, it becomes one of cinema's great treasures.

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 Blu-ray comes with the English-language version (which I watched), which runs 106 minutes, and the Italian-language version, which runs 100 minutes. The English version is mastered in high-definition, while the Italian version is mastered in 2K. I'm not sure of the difference, but neither transfer will blow your socks off. The image is clear, but looks worn-out and low-budget, which is perhaps as it should be. This disc also includes an introduction by Rossellini, documentaries, and critical viewpoints.

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