Journey to Italy

Italy/France 1954, 86 mins
Director: Roberto Rossellini

+ extended introduction by Jeremy Cooper and Ben Rivers, with a reading by actor Toby Jones

‘Brian reminded himself that the reason why he was a regular at the BFI was because it made him feel part of something outside, in a very small way a player on the world stage of cinema. He felt one of “us”, a singular essential element, the committed viewer of film, a member of the audience. Without people like him to watch it, film did not exist and the brave work of directors like Güney, Kiarostami, and other politically motivated artists would be meaningless.’
Extract from Brian by Jeremy Cooper. Brian is available for purchase from BFI Shop

Brian is Jeremy Cooper’s seventh published novel. His latest work of non-fiction, Postkartenkilometer. European art cards is the substantial catalogue to an exhibition from 10 November 2023 to 18 February 2024 at Dresden Kupferstich-Kabinett, celebrating his gift to the museum of over a thousand artists’ cards. Cooper gifted a similar number of works to the British Museum, exhibited in 2019 as The World Exists to be Put on a Postcard. His novel Ash before Oak won the first Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize in 2018.

Ben Rivers has made around 40 films. His films tread a line between documentary and fiction, often following people who have in some way separated themselves from mainstream society, creating oblique narratives imagining alternative existences. He has won multiple awards including the EYE Art Film Prize; FIPRESCI International Critics Prize, 68th Venice Film Festival for his first feature film Two Years at Sea; Baloise Art Prize, Art Basel; and twice winner of the Tiger Award at Rotterdam Film Festival. He was commissioned by Artangel to make The Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, shown at the former BBC Television Centre and The Whitworth Museum, Manchester. He is currently working on a sequel to Two Years at Sea called Bogancloch.

Toby Jones is a widely recognised and respected British actor, known for his remarkable performances across stage and screen. With an illustrious career spanning more than three decades, he has achieved widespread acclaim and success in various roles.

After training at Manchester University then in Paris under Jacques Lecoq Toby formed a theatre company to devise and perform original plays and stories. He toured this work to theatres and festivals around the world. At the same time he began to work in repertory theatre and became the inaugural Artist in Residence at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 1996. He directed and taught there over the course of a year’s association. He continues to teach and lead workshops in improvisation, devising and technique most regularly with Complicité and the National Theatre.

In his West End stage debut, Toby worked under the direction of Kenneth Branagh in The Play What I Wrote, earning him the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor. He has worked regularly at the National Theatre, the Almeida, and the Royal Court. Notably, in 2020, he made a triumphant return to the West End as the title role in Conor Macpherson’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, receiving an Olivier nomination for Best Actor.

On screen Toby has most recently been seen in Empire of Light, The Wonder, Tetris and earlier this summer in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Other films include Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Berberian Sound Studio, The Mist, Dad’s Army, Journeys End, Hunger Games, Frost/Nixon, Captain America. He played Truman Capote in Infamous and voiced Dobby the House Elf in the Harry Potter series. He recently finished filming The Instigators with Matt Damon and Casey Affleck.

On television Toby is best known as Lance Stater in Mackenzie Crook’s series Detectorists for which he received the BAFTA for best Comedy performance. He played Alfred Hitchcock in the HBO film The Girl and Neil Baldwin in Marvellous. This autumn he will be seen in The Long Shadow and as Alan Bates in Alan Bates versus the Post Office. Other television appearances include Elizabeth, Doctor Who, Sherlock, The Secret Agent. With Tim Crouch he co-wrote and starred in Don’t Forget the Driver.

He has recently co-adapted Italo Calvino’s If on a Winters Night a Traveller with Tim Crouch and this will be recorded live for Radio Four at the Leeds Playhouse.

In recognition of his remarkable contributions to the field of drama, Toby was awarded an OBE during the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List in 2021.

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away the film’s ending.

Quite simply, Journey to Italy is a very, very great film. A landmark in many respects. One of those masterpieces which feels as if it’s becoming a little harder to ‘fix’ with each and every viewing. Surely no question, then, that the BFI should revive the film.

No question? Actually, once upon a time there might have been a great many questions. Journey to Italy – aka Viaggio in Italia or Voyage to Italy, or even The Lonely Woman or Strangers as it’s sometimes been known (though I’ve never heard it called The Italian Trip or The Curmudgeonly Man, which would be almost as appropriate as some of the aforementioned titles) – wasn’t always held in the high esteem it commands today.

Rossellini first attracted the attention of the world with Rome, Open City (1945) which, like its immediate successors Paisà (1946) and Germany, Year Zero (1947), pretty much conformed to the notion of neorealist films as stories of the everyday lives of the poor and dispossessed – ideally played by non-professionals – simply trying to get by. (This, of course, is a gross simplification of what neorealism was about, but that’s how it’s often described and discussed.)

But to many – with the very notable exception of Cahiers du cinéma critics like Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette and Jean-Luc Godard – Journey to Italy seemed something of an aberration. For one thing, it was about upper-middle-class types (what’s more, they were English!). For another, the lead roles were played by established stars (Ingrid Bergman, then the director’s partner, and George Sanders). And then there didn’t appear to be a proper story. The couple it depicted just seemed to be bored. They didn’t really do anything.

Which only goes to show how hard it is to define ‘realism’. In many regards Journey to Italy is truer to the banality of many people’s lives than the relatively dramatic storylines of Ossessione (1943), Rome, Open City, Bicycle Thieves (1948) and many other neorealist classics.

In depicting the relationship of the Joyces, whose boredom and frustration with each other after years of marriage are brought into much clearer relief when they abandon the comfort zone of home and everyday habits for a trip to Naples and its environs, Rossellini simply lets the couple slowly drift apart from one another, each forced to fall back on all too recognisably limited resources. Nothing extraordinary occurs; they merely respond, in their tellingly different ways, to the sights, sounds and inhabitants of the unfamiliar world around them.

But it’s not just in terms of narrative that Journey to Italy feels somehow more ‘truthful’ than many of the neorealist films. It’s in the overall focus. Rossellini’s sense of the importance of the social, political and material realities of the world around his central characters was as acute as ever, but what distinguishes this film from its predecessors is the attention he paid to their inner lives: the subtle nuances of the thoughts and feelings which they themselves seem often to barely comprehend.

There is an acknowledgement here of profound mysteries at work, and it feels as if Rossellini was determined to try and shed light on those mysteries, even as he made clear that there would be no easy answers to why his characters do what they do.

In this regard, the film moved beyond neorealism, towards another realm populated by figures like Carl Dreyer, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, even Rohmer or – more recently – the likes of Krzysztof Kieslowski, Abbas Kiarostami and Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Indeed, it might even be argued that, along with the earlier Citizen Kane (1941), it was Journey to Italy which was most instrumental and influential in effecting the transition from traditional forms of cinematic storytelling to something more recognisably modern. And that’s probably why the film itself feels so timeless.
Geoff Andrew,, 24 April 2019

Director: Roberto Rossellini
Production Companies: Sveva Film, Junior Film, Italia Produzione Film, Société Générale de Cinématographie, Films Ariane, Francinex
Producers: Roberto Rossellini, Adolfo Fossataro, Alfredo Guarini
Production Managers: Mario Del Papa, Marcello D’Amico
Unit Manager: Mimmo Salvi
Production Assistants: Pietro Notarianni, Alberto Travaglini
Assistant Directors: Marcello Di Laurino, Vladimiro Cecchi
Scriptgirl: Mary Alcaide
Story/Screenplay: Roberto Rossellini, Vitaliano Brancati
Director of Photography: Enzo Serafin
Camera Operator: Aldo Scavarda
Assistant Camera Operator: Alessandro Serafin
Camera Assistants: Aldo Casalegno, Ottavio Belli, Amadeo Muscitelli, Corrado Ricci, Ennio Mancini, Orlando Pellegrini, Mario Micheli, Fernando Bonifazi, Giovanni Di Felice, Rodolfo Filodotto, Ettore Zampagni
Stills Photography: Lorenzo Papi
Editor: Jolanda Benvenuti
Sets: Piero Filippone
Gowns: Ines Fiorentini
Costumes for Ingrid Bergman: Casa Fernanda Gattinoni
Make-up: Manrico Spagnoli
Negatives/Positives: Tecnostampa (Rome)
Incidental Music/Music Conducted by: Renzo Rossellini
Popular Neapolitan Songs/Themes Sung by: Giacomo Rondinella
Sound Recording: Eraldo Giordani
Sound Assistants: Venanzio Lisca, Aldo Zanni, Sergio Zega
Drivers: Pietro Mannetti, Mario Cartocci, Ernesto Cartocci
Made at: Titanus Studios
Story/Screenplay: Antonio Pietrangeli
Original Story: Colette
Photography: Aldo Tonti, Luciano Trasatti

Ingrid Bergman (Katherine Joyce)
George Sanders (Alex Joyce)
Maria Mauban (Marie Rastelli)
Anna Proclemer (prostitute)
Paul Müller (Paul Dupont)
Leslie Daniels (Leslie Harris, Judy’s housemate)
Natalia Ray (Natalia Burton)
Jackie Frost (Judy)
Anthony La Penna (Tony Burton)
Lyla Rocco (Miss Sinibaldi)
Lucio Caracciolo, Marcello Caracciolo, Paola Carola (guest at Duca di Lipoli)
Bianca Maria Cerasoli (Miss Notari)
Adriana Danieli, Mery Martin

Italy/France 1954
86 mins

Joanna Hogg in Conversation
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Preview: Rustin + Q&A with director George C. Wolfe. Hosted by David Olusoga
Tue 21 Nov 18:15
Talk: The Creative Worlds of Powell + Pressburger
Sat 25 Nov 12:00-17:00
TV Preview: Vigil + Q&A with cast Suranne Jones, Romola Garai, Dougray Scott and writer Tom Edge
Mon 27 Nov 18:15

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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