Stromboli Film: A Rossellini Masterpiece


The 1950 Stromboli film (also know as Land of God) directed by Roberto Rossellini is today considered a classic example of the Neorealism movement. However, its initial release was very negative, especially in America, as the film was engulfed by the news of a scandal between the film’s main star, Ingrid Bergman, and Rossellini.

Only over time did the views of this movie become more positive until it reached the status of a classic. Drawn against a postwar setting, Bergman plays Karin, a young Lithuanian woman stuck in an Italian internment camp. She meets Antonio, a fisherman, from the male side of the camp, and despite not loving him, Karin decides to marry him so they may leave the camp. They head for Antonio’s home town on the volcanic island of Stromboli off the coast of Sicily. Much of Karin’s hope for the future is crushed when she realizes how harsh life on Stromboli really is.

stromboli film

The first shock to Karin is how desolate Stromboli is. With high mountain peaks built from the accumulation of volcanic rocks and ash and beaches littered with sharp stones, little vegetation grows naturally on the island and the village people that live there survive primarily off of what the local fishermen bring in from the ocean. Besides the landscape, she also finds that there are very few people on the island as many had moved away to America in hopes of building better futures.

The Stromboli Film

In the Stromboli film, the few people that remain harshly shun her as an outsider and the language barrier between them does not help to assuage things. Still beyond these problems, she faces the many dilemmas of trying to live with her husband Antonio, a man with which she only had a very brief romance. This romance quickly crumbles under the weight of their differences, by Antonio’s absence as he spends most of his time fishing with the other fishermen of the town, and by Antonio’s refusal to take any of his wife’s complaints seriously.

Even though Karin herself was somewhat cold to the village people, she eventually decided to change her ways in an attempt to find some happiness on the island. She redesigns her home, colorfully paints the walls, and introduces some plants to liven up the barren stone interior. Proud by this accomplishment, she tries to invite some village women in to admire the new decor. While they don’t speak the same language, Karin still invites them with her gesturing hands and a smile, but the women refuse to enter and instead glare at Karin with skeptical eyes. When Antonio returns home from work, he claims he likes his wife’s decorating decision, but is secretly upset with it.

Films Worth Watching: Stromboli (1950) - Directed by Roberto ...
Karin scrutinized by village women as she walks down the street.

In the Stromboli film, after Karin has a dress mended by a woman who happens to be a prostitute, she is officially seen by the village as a loose woman. At one point, Antonio slaps her and locks her in their house, emphasizing how much of a prisoner Karin is on Stromboli despite having come to the island to escape imprisonment in the first place. She manages to escape the house and decides to leave the island, but the only way to do that is to climb to the other side of the volcano to the port on the far side of the island. She packs a suitcase with enough money to take a boat and sets off to climb the volcano on her own. However, the noxious fumes erupting from the volcano swarm her as she nears the top, disorienting her. She loses both her money and her suitcase as she stumbles dizzy and confused through the smoke. Eventually, she collapses and passes out at the cusp of the volcano’s crater.

The Details

She awakens to the sun later on, the volcano calmer than it was. She resumes her climb but has lost her way and finds herself again facing her husband’s village. At the sight of it, fueled by newfound courage, she refuses to go back despite not having any money or supplies and desperately pleads with God to help her.

stromboli film
Karin waking up on top of the volcano.

The film was not well received in America where is was believed to have been heavily edited from the original. Part of its negative reception was also due to the affair between Bergman and Rossellini that began while shooting the film on the secluded island, both of them having been married to other people at the time. This affair struck Bergman’s carrier so hard that she was banned from Hollywood and a United States senator was noted in denouncing her as “a horrible example of womanhood and a powerful influence for evil.” Bergman married Rossellini and lived in Italy with him where they would have three children. Bergman would only recover her stardom in America several years later in the 1956 Hollywood film Anastasia.

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