EXTRA! Rossellini’s “Europe ’51” or one woman’s journey from bourgeois ennui to personal fulfillment (1952)

Release year: 1952
Ingrid Bergman, Giulietta Massina and Ettore Giannini
Directed by Roberto Rossellini

In “Europe ’51” Irene (Ingrid Bergman) is a society woman who searches for life’s meaning after the accidental death of her son. She’s a worldly and superficial woman, but her son’s death will push her to seek others and help those in need in a bid to achieve a kind of holy state.

The first scene of the film is told in perfect cadence and Stendhalian efficiency : Irene, lady of the house, is holding a dinner party. The guests arrive, they’re plied with martinis and vermouth. She gets frustrated by her son’s quirkiness, his what we would nowadays feebly call “cries for attention.” The young man makes an appearance, then calls for his mother from bed. He is needy, the little bugger. Earlier, he’s made to greet the dinner guests and thank them for the locomotive he receives as gift. Then, he gets promptly sent away. Later that evening, he’s found lying unconscious at the bottom of the staircase.

Disappointed by a leftist intellectual (Ettore Giannini) husband, after her son’s death Irene leaves the nest frequently and becomes close with a poor prostitute (Giuletta Massina) living in the slums. Good works and social rapprochement ensue as Irene discovers how the other half lives. Disaster, of a different kind, strikes again. She gets locked up in an insane asylum by her husband after being accused of complicity in a crime.

“Europa ’51” is Rossellini’s second film with Ingrid Bergman. A parable on mental illness, the elevated state of consciousness one can tend to, and the shape of Western society as the fifties began, “Europa 51” is also the personal journey that a woman in a state of existential chaos will take. The personal tragedy she suffers triggers catharsis, a social awakening. Society’s response, however, will be to commit her.

Of note, Rossellini’s own son had died a few years before “Europa 51” was made, of acute appendicitis.

As of this writing, film was available in its entirety on Youtube