Ingrid Bergman’s Exile

Ingrid Berman smells some leaves. Image: jdf
Ingrid Berman takes a time-out from self-pity to pick some leaves. Image:

When married Ingrid Bergman went to Italy and began an affair with married film director Roberto Rossellini, it created a huge scandal. HUGE!! Get this: Bergman was actually condemned by the Congress of the United States. (Because, as you know, no member of Congress ever had an extra-marital affair.)

We don’t know if Bergman went to Italy to have a torrid affair; she initially went to star in the Italian neo-realism film, StromboliItalian neo-realism was an emerging film genre after World War II – a sparse, unglamorous style of filmmaking that feels like a documentary.

Stromboli is a small volcanic island off the coast of Italy. It is to this island that Bergman comes to live with her new husband (Mario Vitale), a fisherman she met in a displaced person’s camp in Italy. They arrive at a village of mostly aged inhabitants, a group of clique-y villagers who are disapproving of Bergman and her modern ways.

Bergman hates the island and it’s not long before she’s begging Vitale to take her Away From All This. Vitale refuses; this is his home, these are his people. Of course, this creates friction in their marriage and, adding to their troubles, is the lighthouse keeper’s attraction for Bergman. Not only that, she attempts to have an, uh, unorthodox friendship with the village priest.

Bergman is radiant in this film; she’s almost too groomed to be a refugee. Her acting here seems more organic than in her previous roles. Yes siree! Bergman is all I’m-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar in her portrayal of a desperate person stuck on an actual and metaphysical island.

Yet. One of the problems we have with Stromboli is that none of the characters are likable. We want to feel sorry for Bergman, stranded on this island with no electricity or running cars; where brush and scrub pass for foliage; where people speak in Italian that is rarely translated. Plus there’s that volcano, and you know how they get sometimes.

We suspect Rossellini isn’t as concerned with our empathy for his characters as he is with showing us life in post-war Italy. One of his themes is abandonment and loneliness; another is violence.

Even though there are hints of brutality between humans, it’s Rossellini’s gritty footage of animals that really makes us flinch. For example, in one scene a ferret attacks and kills a rabbit, a graphic reminder that life on the island is cruel.

Another problem is Rossellini’s exploration of the many faces of Bergman. He indulges her excessively: Bergman cries, Bergman is lost, Bergman feels sorry for herself, Bergman sulks, Bergman smells some leaves. (Oops! We may have just given away the whole movie.)

Ultimately, the thing about Stomboli – and Italian neo-realism in general – is the point, as in: What is it? Rossellini doesn’t spell it out for us. He allows us to take what we will from the film. Neo-realism refuses to be sharply defined or placed neatly in a package. Isn’t that the way life is, sometimes?

Stromboli is not a light-hearted movie; you have to be in the mood for it. But if you want to see the film that ignited the Bergman-Rossellini scandal, and if you’re interested in Italian Neo-realism, then you must make time for Stromboli.

Stromboli: starring Ingrid Bergman, Mario Vitale, Renzo Cesana. Directed by Roberto Rossellini. Bero Films & RKO Radio Pictures, B&W, 1950, 80 mins.



  1. I have seen this once before but don’t recall a whole lot about it. I adore Ingrid Bergman, though. I’ve also got a goal to see more world cinema and European-American cinema… so I’ll have to give it a re-watch soon. Great post!


  2. Almost every time I watch a Rossellini film I find myself captivated by his technique and unending style… and then it happens. Sitting in my bed, hours later trying to decide why I can’t sleep I realize that these images from his films are cemented in my mind, as if they are actual memories of mine.
    I always feel that I am trapped on that damned island and the thought terrifies me to death. I don’t want to live in a Rossellini movie, I just want tot be an observer, but he refuses to let me escape, and my life will always be altered because of the world that he has sharred with me.
    Thanks for the wonderful post and for sharing your insightful thoughts!


    • This really is a haunting movie and some of the scenes aren’t easily shrugged off. I don’t think I’ll ever forget Ingrid B. climbing the volcano, or the scenes of the men fishing.

      The thought of being trapped on that island terrifies me, too! No wonder she was so desperate to leave.

      Thanks for your comment. You’ve given me some things to think about re: Rossellini and his style.


  3. This sounds like such a sad movie. I’m not sure if that genre and I would get along!:) I can’t believe congress did that. My how things have changed! I appreciated learning about Italian neo-realism, Roberto Rossollini, and Ingrid Bergman. I like how you share interesting details behind the movies you review. If I ever wake up and feel like being depressed, now I know what movie to watch!:)


    • This film may not leave you as depressed as other Italian neo-realism films, such as “The Bicycle Thief”. (If you ever watch that one, make sure you have the tissue handy!) “Stromboli” is an interesting film to see, if only to compare to Hollywood films from the same era. However, I wouldn’t blame you if you were never in the mood to see it.


  4. Very interesting post… You’re right having to be in the mood for a bit of Neo-Realism, but I love Ingrid Bergman even if she’s just sniffing leaves and crying. The Swedish Bergman did that a lot with Liv Ullman… (inserts mischievous chuckle) It’s really horrible that the U.S. treated Bergman this way. I now remember hearing something about a scandal… how hypocritical and misogynistic…

    She was so magnificent. And I bet everyone of those people on the panel in Washington were cheating themselves…. Great post as always my friend…!


    • Yes, the camera loves Ingrid B., even when she’s wallowing in self pity. I don’t think she’s ever looked better!

      It’s really shocking, isn’t it, how the U.S. Congress treated her. You’re probably right – they were likely cheaters themselves.

      Thanks for your kind comments. 🙂


  5. Ruth,

    Neo-realism DOES reflect how life is, BUT GIMME HOLLYWOOD! I admit I am so closed-minded in this regard. Still, you made me curious enough about this film to take time out to watch it. Of course, the behind-the-scenes information adds to the allure.

    Thanks for posting this.



    • Ha ha! I completely understand, Aurora. I love the romanticized, happily-ever-after movies of Hollywood, too. This film is not comfortable but, even though it has its flaws, it’s fascinating in its own way. And Ingrid Bergman looks ravishing. She really does.


  6. Ruth, I suspect many moviegoers of Ingrid Bergman’s era may have been as hypocritical as the League of Decency and other two-faced watchdog types; alas, there were an awful lot of tiny, closed little minds back them. It’s been said that Ingrid Bergman’s 2nd Oscar wasn’t awarded to her for her performance in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS — it was really an apology for Hollywood’s former shabby treatment toward her. What a difference a decode or so makes, huh? Your review is witty and thoughtful. I especially got a kick out of “Plus there’s that volcano, and you know how they get sometimes.” Ain’t it the truth? 🙂


  7. Ha Ha just noticed the A Franc for your thoughts. I don’t have one right now but can I owe ya? : )

    It certainly shines through that you really like this film and Ingrid. You’ve provided some great commentary here as well as a look at the film that I hadn’t thought of. I’ll definitely keep it all in mind when watching it again.

    You have such a gift for prose and this one didn’t disappoint. Thanks for putting so much effort into another review for your fans.

    Talk to you soon and have a great weekend.


  8. Several months ago, TCM had a day (or portion of a day) devoted to Rossellini, so I DVR’d the 4 ones with Ingrid. I have only watched one of them…don’t even remember the name of it now. I ought to have expected that the film was in Italian, but I had no idea…until the film started. Of course, I don’t speak a word of Italian, so I had to rely on sub-titles to watch the movie. The problem with that is that I’m usually multi-tasking when I’m watching a movie. Hard to multi-task when you have to have your eyes glued to the screen in order to know what is being said.

    For that reason, I haven’t been in a real hurry to watch the other 3 Rossellini/Bergman films in the DVR. I fear they will all require subtitles. At any rate, this sounds interesting to me.


    • I know what you mean about subtitled movies. It’s hard to get other things done! However, this movie is mostly in English — any Italian that’s spoken does not have subtitles so it really adds to the feeling of being an outsider. It’s a clever touch. This one is worth a watch, if you have the chance.

      Thanks for dropping by! 🙂


  9. It’s amazing that all of that really happened, isn’t it? Too bad for her the marriage fizzled. I never thought Ingrid was a good for for the Italian cinema. Maybe she was just too Swedish with a dash of Hollywood.


  10. Having been raised in a building with 12 other Italians, I don’t know how much more italian realism, neo or otherwise, I can take. 🙂
    Ingrid’s bio has always fascinated me. Today, a time where a sex tape is almost a requirement for celebrity, seeing what she endured seems almost quaint — until we realize it was very serious business for her and Rossellini. It speaks volumes about her character and talent that she would survive that backlash and eventually come to receive the accolades due her.


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