Despite the fact that this impressive 4-disc box set is missing two other films directed by Rossellini and starring Bergman, Fear and Joan of Arc at the Stake, Criterion includes a number of insightful and contextualizing features that work thoroughly through this famous (or infamous, depending on how one looks at it) collaboration.
The first three discs contain the films and then, in most cases, features supplements specific to that film or, at the very most, all three films, while the fourth disc presents supplements more about Rossellini and Bergman themselves.
The first dual-layer disc presents Stromboli and the big feature on here is of course the fact we get two versions of Stromboli, an English-language version, running 107-minutes, and an Italian language version entitled Stromboli terra di Dio, running 100-minutes. Although it should be clear from the runtime the English-language version is not the heavily edited 81-minute American version and is instead Rossellini’s original version of the film, and apparently his preferred one. The Italian version included here was put together later by Rossellini and obviously alters some things since it’s shorter, though I honestly had trouble picking many of the differences. One difference is the lack of a language barrier. In the English-language version Karin does not speak Italian fluently and this creates a few communication problems. This aspect has been excised from the Italian version since Karin now miraculously speaks Italian. The ending also differs a bit, giving it a more religious undertone. Both versions look to have been primarily sourced from the same 2k restoration so they look close in terms of quality, with the added scenes in the English version looking to degrade quite a bit. It will ultimately be up to the viewer which version they watch.
Next is an introduction by Roberto Rossellini, recorded for a French television broadcast of the film. Running only 2-minutes Rossellini talks about the plotline and gives a brief description of the main character and the film’s/character’s conflict.
Next is a 16-minute interview with film scholar Adriano Aprá. Recorded in 2011 exclusively for Criterion (showing how long this set has been in development) Aprá covers the film’s controversy in the press because of the relationship that developed between Bergman and Rossellini (and possibly also from the fact Rossellini was able to steal away one of Hollywood’s biggest stars,) the themes found within the film, the alternate “volcano” film that was developed with Anna Magnani (aptly called Volcano,) and of course the film’s release.
Rossellini Under the Volcano is a 1998 45-minute documentary that revisits the island from the film, which has turned into a bit of a tourist spot. The documentary covers the island’s history to an extent and interviews surviving people who appeared in the film, including a man who played the young boy Bergman’s character comes across, and even Mario Vitale, the male lead (who actually didn’t know he was going to be in the lead.) We also get a fair number of anecdotes, people’s opinions about the whole Bergman/Rossellini controversy (they didn’t really understand the big deal,) Bergman’s obvious difficulty with the nature of the production, and issues that occurred on set. It’s a rather wonderful inclusion, offering some context about the location and firsthand accounts of the production.
The second dual-layer disc houses Europe ‘51 and like the first disc featuring Stromboli we get two versions of the film: the English-language version and the Italian-language version, Europa ‘51. Though Rossellini, as I understand it, prefers the Italian version the English version is presented as the main feature on the disc while also receiving what is arguably the better transfer. Still, the Italian version presented here is actually not the version that was ultimately released in Italy and may itself not be Rossellini’s preferred cut. The version included here is a reconstruction of the version that premiered at the Venice Film Festival and includes a couple of scenes and pieces of dialogue not in the released Italian version, including a sequence where Bergman’s character goes to the movies.
The versions do differ in some surprising areas apart from some added or altered sequences found in the longer Italian version. It’s obvious the version’s main aim was to tone down what could be viewed as a strong political view, despite Rossellini’s attempt at looking at certain social issues from a number of angles, which a supplement on this disc gets into (ironically both critics from either side of the political aisle found plenty to dislike about the film.) The English version removes most of the comments or actions likely deemed too left leaning politically for certain audiences (the States particularly) and even outright dubs new dialogue over actors. The English version also makes Bergman’s character a little more saintly. Interestingly it also trims a few sequences that seem innocent enough (to me at least) like a sequence where Bergman goes searching for a doctor, so I assume some of these trims and cuts may also be related to pacing.
Getting into the remaining supplements on the disc we first get another introduction by Roberto Rossellini originally recorded for a French television broadcast of the film. Rossellini talks about how the film was intended as a sort of companion to The Flowers of St. Francis, this one portraying how he would have possibly been treated today, showing how perceptions can change over time. He then concludes the 5-minute segment (the longest found on the set) recounting a story about a man who willfully turned himself into police for selling on the black market, and how this story influenced the latter part of the film. Usually these types of introductions can be a bit fluffy though no less fascinating to view, but this one is particularly insightful.
Adriano Aprá appears again and talks about Europe ‘51. He talks about its relation to The Flowers of St. Francis and how it was a bit of a change from previous Rossellini films, looking more studio-polished in some areas like lighting and the fact that it’s more of a melodramatic “message” movie, which probably worked better for modern audiences. The interview runs 18-minutes.
The disc then concludes with a version comparison by Elena Dagrada, covering the various versions of the film. The 36-minute piece first starts by offering some context about the period the film was released in, the Cold War between the States and the Soviet Union, and how other European countries were sort of stuck in the middle. It covers the original premiere cut (which is the Italian version on here) and then the subsequent Italian cut, which removed a few scenes from the first cut, the International English cut (which is the English version here,) that cut out a good chunk of the controversial social aspects, and the truncated American cut. It gets into issues either side of the political aisle had about the film and Rossellini’s thoughts on those “issues.” It also does a side by side comparison of the various versions, showing how the editing differs or, in a lot of cases, the dialogue differed. A rather enlightening feature.
The third disc features Journey to Italy and it’s the more stacked of the first three discs, starting with an audio commentary by film scholar Laura Mulvey, recorded originally for the BFI’s DVD edition. I’m usually not a fan of Mulvey’s tracks (her track for Peeping Tom is one of the more unbearable things I’ve ever listened to) and this one is no different. It’s an incredibly stuffy piece, dry as sand, as Mulvey drones on, obviously reading from a script or notes at least, as slowly as possible, covering the film’s themes and style, saying a lot but never really offering anything revelatory or, at the very least, interesting. Also frustrating is the amount of dead space.
Like the other discs in the set this one includes another introduction by Roberto Rossellini where he quickly talks about the film for 2-minutes, followed by another interview with scholar Adriano Aprá. Here he talks about the themes of the film, particularly the clash of cultures present (which he addresses as the “culture of sewing” and “culture of draping.”) He also talks about the obvious differences in style and narrative structure between this film and the others, specifically the fact it feels like the viewer is viewing everything from the outside. It runs about 11-minutes.
Criterion next includes a wonderful 32-minute interview with the twin daughters of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Ingrid and Isabella Rossellini. The two talk about their parents and the films they made together, though Isabella admits it’s hard watching them because she’s can’t detach herself from the fact that that is her mother on screen. Their parents rarely discussed their films so the sisters are basically forced to discuss their takes on each film, which have changed over the years. It’s an affectionate and enlightening interview with the two, easily one of the strongest supplements to appear in the entire set.
Popping up yet again in a Criterion supplement, director Martin Scorsese talks about the impact Rossellini’s work has had on cinema, from the neorealist Rome Open City to what he calls the first “modern” film, Journey to Italy. He even comments on actor Renzo Cesana, who appears in the film, and his famous “Continental” character, who was parodied by Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live. It runs 11-minutes.
Criterion then includes a couple of visual essays, the first entitled Living and Departed by Tag Gallagher, which runs 23-minutes. It first looks at the impact the death of Rossellini’s son had and then looks at the development in style from Stromboli to Journey to Italy, as well as how he worked with his cast. Surprised by Death by James Quandt runs a little long (in my opinion) at 39-minutes, but offers a fairly in-depth analysis of all three films and the shared plotlines, situations, and themes that he argues runs parallel to the lives and relationship of Bergman and Rossellini. Though the Quandt one may ramble a bit both essays are still preferable critical alternatives over Mulvey’s commentary.
The third disc then closes with a 5-minute movie reel showcasing the Rossellini’s in Capri. In Swedish it simply follows Bergman around during the shoot of Journey to Italy, with footage of the twins Isabella and Ingrid being led around by their nanny. A rather amusing inclusion.
The fourth dual-layer disc, which is packaged with Journey to Italy, presents the remaining features for the set, which are more general in nature and not specific to any of the films. The first feature is the 62-minute documentary Rossellini through His Own Eyes, made in 1992. Made up almost entirely of archival interviews with the director (with audio interviews playing over various behind-the-scene bits and archival footage) the director recalls his early life, how he got into film, his political beliefs and how they were formed, and the documentary focuses on some of his favourite films, The Flowers of St. Francis in particular. There isn’t an awful lot about Bergman and their films together, but it does offer some insights into his historical films and then some time on the omnibus film Ro.Go.Pa.G. With some quick interviews with others it’s a rather concise if truncated look at the life and work from Rossellini through his own interviews (and a few others including Bergman and Anna Magnani.)
Bergman then gets some focus with the 50-minute documentary Ingrid Bergman Remembered, which is hosted by Bergman’s first daughter Pia Lindström. In covering the actresses’ career—from Hollywood to Rossellini’s films to banishment from the affair to her return in Anastasia—it’s standard fare, covering all one would expect, but it is probably at its best when it gets a little more personal when Lindström or Isabella Rossellini recall their mother and large family, with Isabella fondly recalling her excitement at having an “American sister” in Lindström, whom she gladly showed off. The set as a whole does go into great detail about the affair between Rossellini and Bergman and the scandal that followed, so when this documentary gets into more detail about it (the feature does focus a lot of time on it) there is a been-there-done-that feeling but it’s still a pretty decent biography of Bergman with some great home movies, including footage shot of her when she was 3 by her photographer father, all which is very touching and even heartbreaking.
Criterion then pulls in another family member to talk about Bergman and Rossellini in their niece G. Forella Mariani, who was very close with Bergman, who naturally felt like an outsider when she first joined the family. She talks about her personality and how she saw her job as an actress, which was just that, a “job” as an anecdote she shares hints at. She also talks about how she helped her in her own life. Along with the interviews with Bergman’s daughters found throughout the supplements this is another wonderful personal interview offering a peak at the family.
Criterion next includes a tribute to Roberto Rossellini called My Dad is 100 Years Old, directed by Canadian director Guy Maddin and starring Isabella Rossellini. In it Isabella talks about her father, his films, and his thoughts on the Hollywood system, with her father being represented here by a rumbling stomach (I doubt I could adequately explain why this is) while taking on the roles of various other film personalities including Fellini, Hitchcock, and even Selznick, who is of course the one who brought Bergman to Hollywood. It’s told with Maddin’s usual visual style which is going to be what attracts or repulses viewers.
The set then closes with the 1952 short film The Chicken, directed by Rossellini and starring Bergman for the omnibus film Siamo donne. In it Bergman talks to the audience directly, telling of an incident involving her and a malevolent chicken that was determined to destroy her rare roses. It’s a more humourous outing for the two and actually fairly amusing.
The set also comes with an extensive 84-page booklet. There’s a general essay by Richard Brody that gives a decent overview of the relationship (both working and otherwise) between Rossellini and Bergman, followed by two essays that focus on Stromboli: one by Dina Iordanova covering the themes of the film and the impact it had on her, followed by another by Elena Dagrada that goes over the numerous versions of the film (which I’m actually surprised wasn’t made a video feature on the disc, similar to one that appears on the Europe ‘51 disc.) Fred Camper then provides a short and insightful essay for Europe ‘51 while Paul Thomas does the same for Journey to Italy. Criterion then brilliantly includes the original letter exchange between Bergman and Rossellini that would lead to their work together and then closes the booklet off with a short essay by Rossellini about Stromboli and then the reprint of two interviews: one between Rossellini and Eric Rohmer and François Truffaut, and the other between the director and Adriano Aprá. It’s a fantastic booklet and makes for a fairly remarkable read, nicely closing off ends left open in the disc supplements.
There is some obvious material missing, like the two previously mentioned films, and maybe even the truncated 81-minute American version of Stromboli (which would have been more of a curiosity I guess,) but this set is jam packed with features and all of it together (apart from the Mulvey commentary probably) offers a thorough examination of the two’s work together. Rather stunning with an impressive amount of effort.
Detailed reviews for each title: 10/10
Stromboli, Europe '51, Journey to Italy