Monday, March 10, 2014

Stromboli (1950)


“Those who are born here, all they wanted was to leave. You can imagine how I feel here, Father, a stranger. These black rocks, this desolation, that... that 'terror.' This island drives me mad”

            If you know anything about film history or Old Hollywood actors and actresses you will know that Ingrid Bergman travelled to Italy to make Stromboli with the Italian Neo-Realist director Robert Rossellini and while there they had an affair and Bergman became pregnant. She was still married to her first and this affair caused an uproar all over the world. Bergman was denounced on the floor of Congress and by religious groups and her career in American cinema was temporarily over. This whole scandal overshadows Rossellini and Bergman’s film Stromboli which, to me, is unfair because the film was very well made and well acted.
            Karin (Bergman) traveled to Italy from Lithuania during the War. In Italy she was put in an internment camp. All she wants is to leave the camp. The authorities did not grant her to relocate to Argentina like many other immigrants and Italians were doing at the time. Karin’s only way out now is to marry a young Italian soldier named Antonio. Antonio comes to the camp every night singing to her and he asks her to marry him even though they barely know each other.
            Once they are married Antonio takes his new bride back to his home on a small desolate island that sits under the shadow of an active volcano. Karin is a woman with needs, needs that Antonio cannot fulfill for her. Soon she wants off the miserably lonely island. All the women look down at her thinking she is too free spirited and has anterior motives. One night Karin brought over a dress to have a woman alter is for her. The woman’s husband, the lighthouse keeper, is home in bed. They had seen each other before and Karin flirted with him a little bit. Karin is trying on her dress in another room when Antonio walks passed. He is furious to see Karin in another man’s house and especially seeing other men singing to her outside the house. He drags her out of the house to theirs
            In a desperate attempt Karin goes to the town priest who has been very nice to her. While speaking to him in his office she tries to seduce him. When she comes home from speaking to the priest Antonio locks Karin in the house to keep her from doing whatever he believes she is doing. Karin looks out the window and  sees the lighthouse keeper on the beach. She calls to him to come and get her. They go down to the beach and Karin talks the man into getting money for her to run away.
            Karin eventually attempt to run away. The volcano had erupted the day before and was still smoking. Her journey to the other side of the island, her escape to a better life by boat, is almost thwarted. Karin almost turns back until her will to leave and her finally giving in to believing in God keeps her going.
            Ingrid Bergman was amazing. The woman just never gave a bad performance. Karin was, to put it bluntly, a bitch. She was completely out for herself and just went about doing things for herself in not so good ways. She was manipulative and greedy. I watched this film with my brother. He had no sympathy for Karin at all. Me on the other hand I did. Who would ever want to live on a desolate island under a volcano with a husband who is like a child and who is away all the time. One of the special features is Rossellini’s introduction to the film. He explains that Karin’s ambitions and stubbornness and determination get her through life but they also get in the way. Bergman was flawless. It is so different from her other characters because Hollywood always made her play these romantic roles. Bergman got to play the “bad” woman in the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and that was probably the extent of her playing “bad” women up until Stromboli. She looks innocent enough and then she lays on the seduction. It is hard to find an actress that can do what Bergman did in this film today let alone back in the 1940s. I could not get over how beautiful her face was in one scene. She was lying on a bed it was supposed to be early in the morning and Karin could not sleep. I just found her eyes and her face to be so beautiful in that scene I cannot explain why.
            Rossellini’s direction was beautiful. I liked his direction in the scene where the townspeople are running out to the water to get on the boats when the volcano erupts. You can see how frightened all the people were. It also reminded me of a surrealist film a bit. I like Rossellini’s characters because they are flawed they are real people. All his films with Bergman I have seen I have enjoyed because his characters were flawed and desperate and needing something more in their lives.

            Stromboli as I watched it I was on the fence about because I did not understand the character of Karin and in order to understand the film and its story you have to understand Karin. Rossellini’s introduction to the film and his explanation of Karin helped immensely and after that I understood the film. Watch Stromboli for the film and the story as it is and not just for the beginning of Ingrid Bergman and Robert Rossellini’s affair.