Stromboli is the story of a sinner who receives God's grace. But Rossellini does not show the odyssey of a conversion, with its hesitation, remorse, hopes, and slow and continual victories over oneself. God's majesty shines here with such a hard and terrible brilliancy that no human conscience could bear even the dullest reflection of it. This grand Catholic film solemnly unravels its exterior pomp and shows nothing of interior life, except what we are left to imagine of the hideous motives of a soul sensitive to the call of the world. The heroine of Stromboli is brought to a savage island by a man whom she married for ulterior motives and who forces her to share his austere fisherman's life. Like a trapped animal, the heroine spares us none of her lamentable struggles. We contemplate her with disgust, never sympathy. This weak creature seemed just the type to touch us. Yet, the most disinterested movements, the feelings of disgust and the delicacies of the fragile, protected woman, are nothing here but the mark of a sordid appetite for a comfortable life and only persuade us all the more of her fundamental abjection. God's boundless mercy is shown by the absurdity of his pardon for her, just as the mystery of reprobation is shown by the incommensurability of the punishment with the crime. He pardons at the moment when man, turning himself into an administrator of justice, makes insensitivity a rule.

I will therefore comment on the biblical verse that Rossellini gives as an epigraph to his work: "I am sought by them that asked not for me; I am found by them that sought me not" (Isaiah 65, quoted by St. Paul). Everyone is free to find other aspects to this film. As for me, I see only a few works that in our time have as magnificently, as directly, exalted the Christian idea of grace, works that, without rhetoric, simply by the evidence of what we are shown, proclaim more loudly man's misery without God. Perhaps of all the arts, film is the only one today that knows how to walk without faltering on these high summits and with all the magnificence required, the only one that still leaves room for the aesthetic category of the sublime elsewhere discarded because of an excusable sense of modesty. Since Victor Hugo's voice was silenced, what writer would dare not banish the words magnificent, terrifying, or grandiose from his pen? The poetic beauty of Stromboli borrows none of the pomp of the verb or the metaphor and thus does not fear an abuse of their power. The idea and the symbol are so indistinguishable that we no longer question the artifice of the person who united them for us. God's grandeur springs not from the mouths that speak of him but from the actual presence of the volcano, the lava, the waves, and the Italian shore, which the beautiful foreigner in her beach outfit desecrates with her awkward, Nordic-girl grace. Perhaps the filmmaker's conscientiousness led Rossellini beyond his intentions as an author. We feel he has some pity for the creature whose fall he portrays, and we often fear that he will succumb to the base pity that earlier caused some Italian films to be successful. To attribute his discomfort to a exaggerated concern with formal research would be to fail to recognize the deeper sense of modem art. American literature today, whose influence on postwar Italian filmmakers we know, is one of the most brilliant illustrations of the Nietzschean myth of the "death of God." Each being, each event, is clad only in the charm of its pure existence. What is must be, in a world in which all hierarchy of religious or moral values is deliberately cast off. We can imagine the temptation of a philosophy that seems exactly suited to the filmmaker's purpose. Giving in to this temptation would mean failing to recognize that the portrayal of the small, true fact - "realism" - is the requirement of an art whose very existence is paradoxical, but poetry, song, its end. And what other subject would be more immediately poetic? We condemn Rossellini only for having given too much to the literary objects that he admires and for having sacrificed a bit of the tradition of Gance and of Eisenstein to the false gods of Caldwell.

Some people are born filmmakers. The author of Stromboli, Paisan (Pai'sa), and La Macchina ammazzacattivi knows all the importance that his art bestows upon the objects, places, and natural elements of a set. By mastering the power he gives them, he makes them his primary instruments of expression. The set will automatically form the actors' movements: the room with thick walls, the narrow courtyard, the steep or sheer slopes. They tell us of an obsession with a closed world, a world that confines into an always narrower matrix the large graceful body of the imprudent woman who wanted to remake it to her liking. And just as he makes things act, Rossellini considers his chacters to be "things" as well. Rossellini's art is one of the least apt to express interior life. The whimpering, the gasping, and the rattling with which Ingrid Bergman fills the walls and shores signify nothing more than the leaps of a small rabbit strangled by the carnivorous stone marten or of a tuna pierced by the fisherman's pike. They are her and, stripped of all mystery, reveal only her interior emptiness. In this respect, it is significant to compare Stromboli with Under Capricorn, a work of protestant inspiration, in which we see, once again, the same actor climb the long road separating despair and self-disgust from the peace of rediscovering a conscience. If cinema were merely the art of probing the soul's interior, I would be ready to give all of Stromboli for the Hitchcock shot in which Ingrid Bergman's face, sunk against the edge of her bed, heavy-lipped, eyelids half-closed, reflects, in the space of an instant, such a wealth of diverse sentiments (fear and self-mastery, candor and calculation, rage and resignation) that the most concise writer could not express it in several pages. But Rossellini's design is different, and it would be unfair of us to condemn him for denying us what others put so much science into revealing. In his work, each thing is in the present, is an appearance, a palpable form, and admits nothing beyond the divine hand that presided over its creation. What this film loses in moral depth, it finds in religious grandeur. A kind of tragic horror fixes our gaze and imposes a view of the world that is neither that of man, in that it excludes compassion, nor that of God, in that it still inspires terror. At a time when almost all the arts base their hierarchy of values on ideas of revolt and blasphemy, I am glad to see that among them, the youngest and the lowliest in appearance, in the process of one of its more questionable procedures, "realism," suddenly begins, as if in spite of itself, to rediscover the meaning of the virtue of respect, which was formerly the symbol of art.

It would be futile to search this film for the echo of an adventure that is still in the news. A director never treated his actress with less love or consideration. If, in the course of the projection, our distracted gaze leaves the character to linger on the woman who brings her to life, it is not the destiny of the woman that draws our attention but that of the actress who, docile under a tenderless master, patiently learns to splinter the royal allure of a great tragic actress on the piles of pumice and the pebbles of the banks.

(Gazette du cinema 5, November 1950)

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