Sunday, January 15, 2012
Roberto Rossellini: Europa '51
In Rossellini's Europa '51, the complacent lifestyle of a bourgeois mother, Irene (played by Ingrid Bergman), is overturned by the suicide of her young child. This traumatic, unforeseen event leads Irene on a philanthropic mission to the hidden world of the poor in the housing projects on the outskirts of Rome. Her short voyage to the land of the people is guided by her journalist friend Andrea, who is able to place all the misery she observes within the meaningful framework of communism. Like Irene, the film itself leaves the artificial, isolated set of the bourgeois home and sets off in neorealist fashion to observe the bleak reality of the city. However, Irene and the film's progress towards (class) consciousness is interrupted when Irene on a later trip to the poor walks into a church, a detour that results in her ending up not a militant but a saint (with details drawn from the life of Simone Weil). In "A Child Kills Himself," Jacques Ranciere admits that when he first viewed the film during the 1960s, his Althusserian critical expectations were frustrated by Irene's retreat into religious idealism, which seemed to contradict the materialist first half of the film. But after watching the film 25 years later, Ranciere changed his evaluation. Rather than offer one more restaging of a teleological "coming-to-consciousness," the film, he argues, follows Irene as she gets lost and wanders into an atopia, a world where everything is not perfectly in its place and where she becomes like a foreigner who encounters what cannot be clearly represented by established discourses such as Marxism. Ranciere surely saw in Irene his own flight from the Althusserian science of the hidden into the archives of the workers' movements. He writes, "For she who had been invited to look behind things, the break comes from looking to the side instead."