Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Stromboli (1950)

It's been a while since I have written something.
There were times that I wanted to, but just couldn't bring myself to it. what for, what for, was the dominant voice in my head. Now there are some who would ask me if I was mad ( in the crazy sense). That seems to be the usual response to anything remotely funny that I try to do, in my world, these days.
Well, that definition of madness is wrong, according to me. Madness is when you hurt people -- with words, with actions. Not when you try to make people smile, maybe ,even happy -- a little, for an instant. Now that -- trying to make people feel good -other people- is stupid.

What for, anyway? When I look back at my life, I realize it has been pretty much cringeworthily stupid, and meaningless.
So much so that at times I feel I should have become a nun when I had the chance!

And that is nothing new either. Let me explain.

I saw this movie, Stromboli by Roberto Rossellini. An island in the Mediterranean in the late nineteen forties, after the Second World War. The movie starts in a camp for displaced persons. Karen (Karin?) , a Lithuanian woman in that camp chooses to escape her situation by marrying a young Italian soldier, Antonio.
He sings to her from the other side of the barbed wire that separates the two camps, she is not that into him, because she has plans to emigrate to Argentina. But when that plan falls through, she marries this man. She has a past too of which he knows nothing much. And for her part, she doesn't have a clue of what he or his home was like. One cannot help thinking of the parallels between the usual arranged marriages that used to ,and even now, take  place in my country.

Karen, played by the great Ingrid Bergman, is an independent, courageous woman of the modern world (no wimp like some of us). When she marries this young fisherman turned soldier, and follows him to his world, she escapes from a camp of women, but what for? To a place and people stuck in the past. A petrified barren island with no sliver of green in sight. To top it all, there is  an active volcano looming over them , controlling, terrorizing. That island kind of shook my idea of a romantic rustic Italy filled with poppies and olive trees and sunflowers and vineyards. (I know they are there, but, obviously, this is another part of it). This island is a symbol of the world in general, of life.

Why do I say that? Because like the people in that village, we struggle along. holding on to our petty desires, possessions, fears and prejudices. and a pathetic faith in an indifferent, superior power who protects us. all for what? to die. the absurd drama of life -- the upward climb of youth, then the downward fall to old age, sickness and death. Well, I read that Rossellini was known for his neorealistic ways of moviemaking. So obviously, he intended it to be understood as a realistic piece of story telling about existence.

And such an existence! I cannot imagine what these people have gone through. Each of those women in the camps, each of those soldiers, the villagers -- I am not talking just about the movie here -- the havoc that war wreaks, the choices we make at such times, It creates grey areas in the  so called moral world. (Karin, in her past life, had chosen to have an affair with an enemy soldier. Remember Kate Winslet's character in The Reader? That would be another facet of such times) But there is another side to this. It is these same disasters that changes values, beliefs and status quo. .  No one welcomes wars, or any other catastrophes, but sometimes it is these hardships that act as catalysts for great change, especially for the next generation. And that makes greater nations, where the rights of till then forgotten masses are acknowledged. For instance, that is when women started to get lives of their own, outside their homes.

Karin's needs are not seen as important by her simple husband. He is not being mean or bad. It is just what he is used to, what he knows. He takes it for granted that his wife will follow him wherever he goes. So what if it is completely alien to her? That no one welcomes her, that the very harshness of the land chokes her? She is supposed to adapt, to adjust.

Karen rises above the rest of the characters, because of her longing to be free, to be courageous. But she has her petty sense of pride and feelings of superiority too. And the need to be free -- another Madame Bovary. But  Karen is different in her self-realization. And in that she is not punished by being killed off in the end.

That is enough of the serious stuff. phew! what I want to mention is the beauty of Ingrid Bergman. There is a scene where she languishes on one of those lifeless black rocks that line the sea. She is breathtakingly, divinely, one with the rocks there, a luminous part of nature. So different, yet so much a part of it all. Innocent, and knowing simutaneously. For a brief moment, she is free, happy. Now that is an image that speaks to me -- the message being that we are all part of this universe, which at once is alien to me, and my own. The final epiphanic scene where she becomes aware of the mystery and beauty of the universe, to me, is foreshadowed here. And also that the director was in love with her. ( I don't know if my eyes are failing -- but to me, all the main male characters looked like Montgomery Clift, one of my models of male handsomemess) yikes!.

Now for the ending -- open ending, I am glad. But instead of the "what for" the voice now is "God" "oh God" . Did she find God ? I had gleefully watched her dismissing the villagers' God all along, even trying to seduce the priest to aid her escape. But no, she sees the world through new eyes -- of appreciation, of humility and of love. Which is all very sublime.

But I think she is going to be a nun. hehe.