Karen, a young woman from the Baltic countries, marries fisherman Antonio to escape from a prisoners camp. But the life in Antonio's village, Stromboli, threatened by the volcano, is a tough one and Karen cannot get used to it.
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Living in an Italian refugee camp in 1948, the beautiful Karen meets Antonio, a resident of the men's camp. While not in love with him, Karen marries him and they soon set of for his home village, Stromboli. The village is on a remote island at the foot of an active volcano. She despairs at what she finds when she arrives. The village is on barren land and virtually devoid of people as many have left, mostly for the United States. She doesn't speak the local dialect and is treated with disdain by some of the locals who see her as an exotic foreigner and a loose woman. After Antonio beats her and locks her in their house, she sets off across the mountains to seek her freedom and a better future. Written by
"La terra e dura qui." Ingrid Bergman is a powerhouse in this film (perhaps out of love and devotion to the director), but she still can't match the power of the menacing volcano on this remote island off the coast of Italy. Bergman plays a prisoner of war with a checkered past stuck in a women's camp, who marries a Strombolian in order to provide herself with the security she needs. Trouble awaits her, and the first sign we get of that is when she starts to complain of being cold on the boat that is taking her to her new life. What she finds is not up to her high Continental standards, and her attitudes towards the locals and the place itself diminish her already low stature as an outsider. It is less the people however, than the general character of the place that turns her off. The volcano, unnamed by the villagers, always awaits in the background, and setting itself becomes one of the main characters (thus the importance of the title), a force to be reckoned with, much like her character.
Although this film is not noir in any way, and Rossellini himself would probably turn in his grave for hearing me say this, Bergman's character certainly does not hesitate in using her female "wiles" to get what she wants and needs. She survived a world war on what we take are wits and flexible morals, so she will also make it through this and I love her for it.
She even attempts to seduce the local priest by cooing "I knew you were the only person who could help me." Having that attempt fail, she tries with the village lighthouse keeper seen at right, and I don't even have to explain the power of her touch. As she asks for help to escape from the village, she softly touches his foot with hers, and creates an unbelievably palpable feeling of erotic energy, something unheard of in mainstream movies today. I know, that's such a cliché, but it's true.
Anyway, I won't discuss the ending, which angered me as a modern woman (even Bergman didn't seem to be buying it), but I will say that the film impressed me with its use of setting comprising plot, character, mise-en-scene, and theme. The film IS setting. It's also worth it just to see the non-actors performing a yearly tuna fishing ritual that dates back to the Phoenecians. Rossellini films are never just stories, they are historical documents. And I love him for that.
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