Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Europa '51/ The Greatest Love

Rossellini, 111m, 1952

Rossellini's Germany Year Zero (1947) ended with a macabre child suicide. That was an unrepeatable piece of cinema which the director perhaps could not drive from his mind. He attempts an encore and the present film opens with the suicide of Michelle, son of Irene (Ingrid Bergman) and her wealthy husband. Sensitive observer that he is, Rossellini weaves a picture of the world at that juncture of the rapidly changing times around this movie about a grief struck mother.

Irene suddenly finds herself out of place in the comfortable zone of life she has inhabited. Her personal tragedy has opened out in her a wide ranging compassion. She tries to find expression in the Communist ideals of her cousin, as she helps out some poor people. She spends a day as an industrial worker, and is horrified by the wage slavery she discovers. She helps a dying woman and comes into contact with religion. More and more she stays away from her family. She is arrested for helping a criminal to escape, finally ending up in a mental hospital where we see her subjected to a parody of psychiatric examination. Is she a saint or a lunatic?

Whichever the case, this is indeed a weak and meandering movie and which fails to edify or entertain. It's hard to believe it comes from Rossellini. Even Bergman is rather pathetic with a dyspeptic expression which conveys neither saintliness nor insanity. One may suppose Rossellini tried to express a personal experience of sudden alienation. At best one can appreciate it as another psycho-social documentation of a period. 

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