Must a potentially disintegrating marriage ruin a vacation? Perhaps, in a strange way, the right vacation can complement and complicate the personal issues at hand, like 1954's Journey to Italy (Viaggio in Italia). A Roberto Rossellini film where he takes his practice of using extensive location footage and allows that practice to influence the nature of his film resulting in something that's a hybrid of a fictional drama and a travel documentary. The result is a good, strange, somewhat low key, contemplative film.
The film stars Rossellini's wife, Ingrid Bergman, and George Sanders as a married couple, Katherine and Alex, from England who've decided to turn the inspection and sale of a deceased uncle's villa in Italy into an opportunity for a vacation. They find themselves bored and irritable stuck in the car together for long periods, the humourless wife and the cold, condescending husband finding their metropolitan frigidity isn't suited to the tranquillity around them.
How odd to see Ingrid Bergman paired with George Sanders. His cool, calculating, sardonic exterior suited him for playing many villains, how strange to see him here following in the footsteps of Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, and Joseph Cotton. For these two characters it makes sense but Bergman inevitably comes off as warmer--but this makes sense, too, when she begins to recall an acquaintance of theirs, a poet who died, whom Alex barely remembers and scoffs at when he does. Suddenly Katherine takes an interest in fine art and so, when they both agree that being alone together for the first time has shown they really don't know each other after all, while he gets to know other women she visits the museums and ruins.
I think Rossellini must have directed Bergman to react to the statues as though they were living people. She even says when she reunites with Alex that it felt to her as though she were really in the physical presence of people who died thousands of years ago. It's sort of eerie watching her react to the statues as though they're alive. The film pauses to admire how truly lifelike the ancient sculptures are.
The documentary aspects of the film and the fictional story never quite meet up in a literal sense but perhaps in a purely aesthetic one. With the obviously well considered characters, the film is sort of like the beginning of a traditional melody that gradually melts into something that's all mood and experiment.