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My Voyage to Italy (Martin Scorsese) 2001


    My Voyage to Italy, Martin Scorsese’s four-hour remembrance of his most influential brushes with Italian cinema is a definite improvement over his earlier omnibus documentary A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies. For one thing, thanks to the director’s hyper-selectivity this time around, Voyage features a better set of movies than its American counterpart did. The films that he used to illustrate his relationship with domestic cinema were a more idiosyncratic, individualized batch than the paragons of postwar Italian cinema chosen here. By focusing on the work of only five influential directors (Rossellini, De Sica, Visconti, Fellini, and Antonioni) Scorsese is able to present an in-depth look at several key works. I’m not certain of the exact number of films that are presented here*, but each of them is given a detailed summary that lasts upwards of ten minutes.


    Some negatives arise from Scorsese’s approach here. If one has already seen the majority of the films covered (few of them are exceptionally obscure – many are considered essential classics of world cinema), the scattershot insights about the films might not make the time spent watching the segments about them worthwhile. If one hasn’t yet seen these films, and intends to, they should be forewarned that the documentary freely spoils the plots of the majority of the films covered. The simpler, neo-realist films benefit more from this treatment than the later films, particularly those by Antonioni and Fellini. Since Rossellini’s films relied more on plot than style, a plot summary is able to convey more of the magic in his work than it can with a Fellini film, since so much of Fellini’s work relies on the accumulation of mood and images and the immersion in the director’s style. A plot summary barely gets across the point of an abstract movie like 8 1/2. Some personal tidbits about Scorsese’s Sicilian family’s relationship to these movies emerge, particularly throughout the first hour, but later films seem more haphazardly chosen. By far, the most interesting choices are those that seem to be direct antecedents to Scorsese’s own films (the clearest example being Visconti’s Senso, which contains an opera scene that is startlingly similar to the opening moments of Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence.).


    Scorsese’s narration is endearing since he’s often apologizing for the minor flaws in some of the films that he obviously loves. Still, there’s some organizational messiness here. For example, the prologue suggests the two tenets that the film will observe will be the neo-realist film and the epic, but the movie never again brings up the Italian epic, and moves directly into the realm of the auteur film after exploring neo-realism. Considering the scope of the project, nearly any direction is acceptable, however, so the creation of false expectation as to which direction it might take is forgivable. As an introduction to Italy’s cinema, My Voyage to Italy is quite an achievement, and comes highly recommended. Its passion is contagious enough to allow you to ignore the film's omissions (Pasolini, Bertolucci, Wertmuller, and several other key Italian directors,  remain unmentioned). To those already initiated, it might be more fruitful to spend time with those films you’ve not yet seen.


* Off the top of my head, the film gives a detailed look at the following: Cabiria, Open City, Paisan, Germany Year Zero, Stromboli, The Miracle, The Flowers of St. Francis, Europa ’51, Voyage to Italy, Obsessione, La Terra Trema, Senso, Shoeshine, The Bicycle Thief, Umberto D, The Gold of Naples, Marriage Italian-Style, I Vitelloni, La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, L’Avventura, and L’Eclisse. 


* * * 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman