Journey to Italy

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

To say it’s about an unhappily married couple coming undone isn’t exactly a fair synopsis, as that suggests Rossellini spends the runtime building up to Katherine and Alex openly acknowledging their marital dissatisfaction and acting on it. In fact, and to my surprise, Rossellini quickly establishes that these bourgeois Brits have little passion for each other anymore. Alex talks of being “bored” during the opening car ride, and Katherine remarks in the following scene in their hotel room that they don’t really know each other at all. All it took was a break from domesticity and routine – what was meant to be a business trip in Naples with a couple days of relaxation tacked on – for their alienation from one another to be thrown in sharp relief.

And so they spend their Neapolitan sojourn mostly apart instead of together. Katherine ventures out alone to see the sights – sculptures at the museum, catacombs, volcanic activity at Mount Vesuvius – in moody, potent sequences, some of the film’s best. Evocative of history, death, and the mysteries of the earth, the marble figures, rows of skulls, and eddies of volcanic smoke stir up something in Katherine, as if they’re bringing her to the cusp of a spiritual or emotional breakthrough. Alex, meanwhile, hits the bars and eyes local women. I do wonder if Rossellini errs in showing his cards and revealing that he sides with Katherine; Alex’s leering is less flattering than anything we see Katherine do with her time alone. Nights together reveal simmering jealousies and bitterness.

The story approaches its emotional apex during Katherine and Alex’s lone outing together to see the excavation of two skeletons, lovers entombed by ash after Vesuvius erupted long ago. A symbol of love that endured until the moment it was swallowed by darkness. It prompts an epiphany to manifest in the finale that, while far too abrupt, sees them briefly driven apart but finding each other once again.

Journey to Italy Trailer

Journey to Italy is currently streaming on Criterion Channel, HBO Max, and Kanopy.

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