VIAGGIO IN ITALIA directed by Roberto Rossellini (Italy, 1954)

George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman are Mr & Mrs Joyce who have embarked on a less than idyllic holiday in Naples. In this journey to Italy, Neapolitan love songs fill the air but fail to establish a romantic mood and end up being as annoying as the insects.

Mr Joyce describes the vacation as a business trip although he seems more interested in charming the local women than working.

This well-heeled couple are plainly unused to being alone together and spend most of this ‘quality time’ bickering and pointing out each other’s defects; he is selfish, she is sentimental etc, etc, etc.

While he’s off with his own cronies, she’s left to entertain herself. He’s like a suave ladies’ man who has either lost his skills as a womanizer or can’t be bothered to make the effort anymore. He picks up a local prostitute in his Rolls Royce but can’t bring himself to go through with the transaction.

Meanwhile, she fills her time by taking guided tours of the museums and local ruins without any great enthusiasm. While driving around her gaze is drawn to courting couples or young mothers pushing prams.

Roberto Rossellini’s real life marriage to Ingrid Bergman was happier than her fictional one with George Sanders

One of the few times she and her husband are persuaded to make an excursion together is to visit ancient city of Pompei. There they witness the excavation of a couple who had been buried alive in lava when Vesuvius erupted. “Perhaps they were man and wife”, speculates the archaeologist and it’s not hard to see this as a poignant metaphor for their flailing marriage – like the victims of the volcano the Joyces could also be described as being found dead together.

This film was made with English dialogue although I watched a version on You Tube dubbed into Italian (with Spanish subtitles). Not the best format, I admit, but even in the original cut I’m sure I would agree to differ with the critics who ranked it as one the BFI’s Greatest Films of All Time.

It’s bleakly entertaining all the same and is particularly good at depicting a marital break up as deadening rather than dramatic. A last minute reconciliation is at odds with everything that has passed before and looks like an arbitrary ‘happy ending’.

There was no sequel but if I was a betting man, I’d say theirs was a relationship doomed to end in tears.