Europa ’51 is another film from Roberto Rossellini, who directed Rome, Open City, one of my disliked Italian neorealist films. It does star Ingrid Bergman, though, so I was a little less than hesitant (very little, mind you) to dive into this one, but it was showing on TCM, and I doubted I would get another opportunity, so I settled in and braced myself for what was to come. Little did I know I was bracing myself in all the wrong ways.
A lot of the tropes of Italian neorealism are here, from a gritty, near-sepia tone black-and-white cinematography to minimalist/realistic performances and a hauntingly professive musical score that seems to dive in and out of the film whenever it sees fit. This is different from other neorealist films, though; it seems to be putting on airs, mostly thanks to the affluently rich protagonists (another difference from neorealism). The performances themselves are very well done as a result, and Bergman anchors the film as well as she can. But all of this pales in comparison to the plot of this film, which has dethroned all other competitors in my personal list of most depressing films. The characters start out wealthy and well off, and then the film starts, and it’s time to throw tragic event after tragic event at them like rocks at a window, never stopping even when all that’s left is the shattered remains of what used to be a decent person. Umberto D may be a very sad film in tone, but even De Sica would have to bow his head in mercy after seeing Europa ’51 and what it does to its poor, pitiful protagonists. It is only Bergman’s character’s unflinching resolve to weather the storm that makes this remotely worth watching, rather than just fall into sheer pointlessness of beating up a fictional character.
A disclaimer: this film is like Fitzcarraldo in that it was filmed in English, then dubbed over in a foreign language, this time in Italian. Still, as a result of seeing this on TCM I saw the English version, with English dialogue re-dubbed back into the film, which gives the whole thing a very Gojira-esque quality of dialogue that doesn’t fully match the lips of the actors, which took a bit to get used to. Hopefully you won’t mind this either if this is the version you end up seeing. Regardless, this is not a light film to watch; while Bergman’s character makes an excellent transition and becomes the sole shining light in an otherwise thunderstormy day, that can’t ignore the fact that it’s still raining like hell. Surprisingly, though, I liked this one, as depressing as it was, and it was far more worth the watch than Open City or other Italian neorealist fare. I doubt I’ll have too many people agree with me; even Leonard Maltin wasn’t a fan of this one, and other feedback I’ve found online has been mixed at best. Still, I’ve gotta go with what I feel, and I felt satisfied with this.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10