English Title: Europe ‘51
Original Title: Europa ‘51
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Sandro De Feo
Music: Renzo Rossellini
Cinematography: Aldo Tonti
A Rossellini-Bergman Neo-realism collaboration takes place in the post-war Rome, Italy. Bergman plays Irene, an elegant socialite, the wife of a wealthy capitalist George Girard (Knox, in his cold, hard-nosed and unpleasant patina), together they have a young son Michele (Franchina), who feels constantly neglected by his parents, especially Irene, with whom he has spent the dreadful bombing days in England during WWII. Thus, on the occasion of one of the regular dinner gatherings hosted at home, Michele impulsively attempts a suicidal jump to grab his parents’s attention, only later passes away from a blood clot.
Irene lapses into guilt and depression after the bereavement, she grows apart from George, who insists they should shake off the mourning period together. With the help of a close friend Andrea Casatti (Giannini), Irene is introduced for the first time to the hardships of the poverty-stricken living in “the other side of Rome”, which has eluded her thus far. In her conscience-driven commitment, Irene throws herself in helping out those who are in urgent need: defraying the medicine expense of a deprived family to save a young boy’s life; finding a job and standing in for a poor but spirited woman (Masina), who has six children to tend (three are her own kids, the rest are orphans); taking care of an ailing prostitute Ines (Pellati) in her last days. She transforms herself into a modern-day saint.
But a saint always invites persecution in an unjust world, George, holding his own grudge and gnawing jealousy (he accuses Irene of having an affair with Andrea) against her, cannot stand her constant absence in the household and refuses to take her side with respect to her newly occupied activities. When she conducts a misdemeanor to help a young criminal to evade arrest, George and his lawyer conspire to put her in a mental institution, thinking that a spell of solitude is what she needs the most to resume her social and familial duty as a wife of an important businessman. Irene doesn’t defy the ungrounded internment, instead, it strengthens her unerring advocacy of a pure conception of altruism, an act superior of any religious beliefs or political slants. In the final stage of the film, she regains her peace and abides by her conviction in front the review board, who then collectively decides that she should be locked up there permanently, only those who have been aided by her affectionately call her their patron saint, her martyrdom is aptly consummated.
Bergman’s performance is faultless, albeit the fact that her dialog was completely dubbed in post-production, it is a performance demands immeasurable investment from a thespian’s emotional gamut (most of the time, those heart-rending moments are obtrusively intensified by Renzo Rossellini’s highfalutin score), persistently expressive and emotive, her saintly appearance has taken shape through all the ordeal she experiences or witnesses, only Bergman can succeed in eliciting such powerful empathy without telegraphing an air of contrivance, Irene Girard is one of the absolute highlights in her prestigious career.
In the end of the day, what can new audience say about the central story? Is Irene’s self-inflicted sacrifice is a truly commendable virtue? Or, in a more pragmatic stance, her incarceration basically blocks herself from practicing the noble cause to assist the impoverished, she might acquire the tranquility she particularly yearns for after the loss of her son, yet, if that is the case, it contradicts the whole concept of her irreproachable devotion of altruism, the vestige of selfishness betrays from her final gesture, it seems, in order to find the ultimate peace in herself, she barters it with the actual good deeds she would have done if she chooses to accept her old role as a stopgap. With her wealth and wisdom, there are many ways she can continue her philanthropic endeavor, if she really puts her mind into it. That’s the divide between then and now, a lofty, masochistic crucifixion is not fashionable and favorable any more, especially there is a more sensible alternative one can choose, pragmatism prevails in today’s standpoint.