Europa '51 (Roberto Rossellini / Italy, 1952):

"Sanctify yourself, sanctify society," it goes as well as expected in the fraught postwar continent. Transport strikes and luxury sedans set the conflicting timbre, another boy on the edge of the precipice (Germania Anno Zero) though now a beginning rather than an end. He's a child of the Blitz (Sandro Franchina), his mother (Ingrid Bergman) is a busy socialite in Rome, tragedy pushes her past numb grief and into exploratory charity. Roberto Rossellini swiftly and drolly sketches the new decade as an interrupted cocktail party, the necessary shock to the system opens for the wandering heroine "a world I had no idea existed," a metaphysical pilgrimage. The affluence of the bemused husband (Alexander Knox) and the rhetoric of the socialist journalist (Ettore Giannini) are two sides of the sterile coin, she must find her own political-spiritual path. Medicine for the slum family, work for the chipper matron (Giulietta Masina), last rites for the tubercular prostitute (Teresa Pellati). It all leads to the sanitarium, "but are we dealing here with an insane woman or a missionary?" The ultimate Rossellinian position of beatific calm amid chaos, a humanist compassion more communistic than Communism and thus much more dangerous. I'd Climb the Highest Mountain (Henry King, with Knox), a moment of introspection before Marcus Aurelius, The Snake Pit and A Woman Under the Influence. Bergman sans makeup under the microscope is an anxious tour de force, in a world of ominous spirals (the bourgeois staircase, the whirlpool in the electric dam) her character locates straight illumination. (At the clinic, she seizes a Gospels quote and the mortified padre scurries away.) "Speranza?" "Coscienza!" Godard has the movie star in the grinding factory (Tout Va Bien). A hunger for connection, Raphael for the angel behind bars (La Liberazione di San Pietro). The heroine at last is confined yet free in a sublime close-up, leaning over to sum up Rossellini's credo to a fellow troubled soul: "You are not alone." Cinematography by Aldo Tonti. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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