A man and a woman find meaning amidst the ruins of another age: the schematic proffered by Roberto Rossellini in his 1954 masterpiece, Voyage to Italy, remains as vital as ever, constantly spawning successors in that undefinable but all too recognizable strain of modern narrative cinema which makes tourists of disaffected men and women in settings richly endowed with history and forgotten culture. In these films, the setting and its adornments are given the weight of characters themselves, speaking silent truths to those gazing upon them, offering wisdom and comfort to those caught between the contented past and the uncertain future.
It’s a scenario that audiences (mostly festival ones) are by now used to seeing played out in European settings, among mostly European people – Certified Copy, La Sapienza, Museum Hours, and the Before trilogy, to name a few. Tension is often derived from the presence of an interloper from Britain or the U.S. – to say the least, a character containing, unknown to them, a multitude of historical baggage ranging anywhere from the English Reformation and its iconoclasm, to puritanism, capitalism and attendant barbarisms. By coming into contact and meditating upon long-rejected pagan and Catholic architecture, painting, sculpture, and ornamentation, a certain refreshment and cleansing takes place. At its most basic level, as introduced by Rossellini, a spiritual and emotional clarity is ushered in by contact with pre-modern art, and consequently, the sublime, and the cogs of the narrative rumble back into motion, taking our now reborn characters into a new future – a revitalized marriage, the starting of a family, a return to the boring old New World with fresh eyes. It has long been observed that Voyage set into motion a truly modern cinema – that is to say, a cinema of lost people unmoored from tradition, beauty, and community, searching for themselves while traveling – rarely living – amongst its jewels.