Viaggio in Italia (Roberto Rossellini, 1954)

One significant way of revealing the characters’ interiority in Viaggio in Italia is through the inserts of documentary-like shots. Placed after a medium close-up of a character looking off-screen, these images re-produce the typical counter-shot and indicate the object(s) towards which the character’s look is directed. This is a recurring stylistic choice throughout the film, especially used during the scenes where Katherine is driving in the car.  Frequently, we see her behind the steering wheel in the first shots; the confining medium close-up reinforces her physical isolation in the car from the external world. As she pensively observes what is outside, there is a cut to presumably what she is observing.  In the subsequent shots, the camera freely records what it sees: buildings, animals, people by the road, on busy streets, walking or standing. The camera’s existence is obvious: most people look at it.


The film’s main motif of the conflict between the mystery of death and faith in life is intensely reflected in these shot/counter-shot patterns.  The seemingly uninterrupted naturalness of the external world as opposed to the fictional character, Katherine, in the car, leads us to pay attention to Ingrid Bergman’s performance.  There is an everyday casualness and ordinariness in the way the subjects of these documentary-like images move.  Moreover, the camera seems carefree, as if it started rolling by chance, without any pre-planning of location, framing or lighting.  The interior shots, on the contrary, hardly vary: the camera is fixed on the medium close-ups of Katherine and, during these shots, her movements and expressions are limited.  Katherine is an observer of life outside; she neither belongs there nor understands it.  At times, the juxtaposition of these shots makes us forget the distinction between character and actor, Katherine and Ingrid Bergman.

Katherine is detached both emotionally and physically from the external world in these scenes, where the contrast between fiction and non-fiction parallels her questioning of her suspended relationship.  This questioning gradually turns into a spiritual investigation of the inexplicabilities of life and death.  Furthermore, the opposition between the performed action and the natural action, between the life of Katherine in London and of the people of Naples, between the carefully composed image of her in the car and the freely shot images of the outside, points at the form of the scenes, raising questions about performance and filmmaking that extend beyond the fictional world.

In the car scenes, Katherine looks out of the window and we assume that the subsequent shots will reveal what she is looking at.  The images are not entirely irrelevant; regardless of the temporal and spatial shift in relation to the preceding ones, they show the streets of Naples, through which Katherine is driving. Therefore, they correspond to Katherine’s look, perhaps not in form, but in content.  The controlled artificiality of a conventional counter-shot is eliminated, though, replaced with a purer, more pristine and non-judgemental gaze.  We look at Katherine; Katherine looks at the people of Naples; the people of Naples look at each other, to Katherine and to us (theirs seems to be the less limited of the three looks); and we look back. Our look is continuous, but as it is reciprocated, we realise a rupture.  There is no attempt to match the shots of the outer world precisely with what Katherine sees; these shots are independent and out of place.  Her life is remote from these images; and similarly, these images are somehow remote from the fictional world.


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