The intense, oft-overlooked Europe ’51 was, according to Rossellini, a retelling of his own The Flowers of St. Francis from a female perspective. As a way of dealing with grief over the death of her young son, a self-absorbed Rome socialite devotes her time and money to the city’s poor and sick.
This film is not currently playing on MUBI but 30 other great films are. See what's now showing
Some consider the bourgeois woman Irene to be a secular saint. Deleuze describes her as "a mummy radiating tenderness." But, as she herself explains, "Love for others springs from the hate I feel for myself." This isn't a glib Italian sermon on Humanism, nor mystical union--she isn't a symbol or sign, but a unique artistic creation born from catharsis and guilt into one doomed to perform actions of love and respect.
Thank goodness I was able to get English subs for this film, and did not have to watch what sounds like a horribly dubbed version. Bergman's performance is great, and the little things - such as the interactions between Irene and the little girl Daniella, and Irene's experience in the factory - made this a great experience for me.
Look for the story beneath the story. Or the story looking out of the story. Namely, look into Ingrid Bergman's eyes. The eyes of a trapped woman in her uncommon purity. Then there is the city. A new city. An oppressive and drab fortification, its poor penned up in slums. Glowering factories. The movie at the surface, the didactic melodrama, is a bit much. But the beauty and grace shine stridently through.
Rossellini made a beautiful film about a woman who sacrifices everything and becomes a saint and called it Europe '51. I loved the way he contrasts the melodrama set up with harsh imagery, making for a great, tragic atmosphere!
The english dubbing isn't that great, and the print I saw had irritating french subtitles (in orange!), and wasn't in very good condition. However there's definitely a masterpiece underneath the technical problems. I would love to see this film restored.
Also, the appearance of Giulietta Masina was a pleasant surprise.
Irene's pure altruism cannot be confined within messianic narratives: it is neither Christian nor Communist. And in the heavily ideological landscape of post-war Europe, her kindness can only be mistaken for insanity.
I keep thinking Jeanne d'Arc meets Pickpocket - and that's the problem with archetypes right there. Rossellinis pursuit of more abstract aspects of social critique becomes clearer with this film, recursively, for Germania Anno Zero too. Still, something a tad too naive not to steal a smile keeps flimmering in the images.
This is the strangest of the Rossellini/Bergman collaborations and perhaps the easiest to dismiss due to what seems like an awkward moral didacticism. It's more than its (purposefully) obnoxious surface critique of post-war Italy. It's a great film about saintly hysteria.