Europe ‘51: Irene’s Moral Quest for Redemption

Alessandra Cicci


Roberto Rossellini describes his take on neorealism as “primarily a moral position which gives a perspective on the world. It then becomes an aesthetic position, but its basis is moral.” In what Mark Shiel calls the second phase of Italian neorealism, Rossellini’s fascination with morality and spirituality becomes ever present, especially after his films of the 1940s. Rossellini’s 118-minute, 1952 film, Europe ‘51, sheds light on the everyday issues faced by Italians, and brings to light the moral dilemmas that exist as a result of the war. Ingrid Bergman’s character in Europe ‘51, Irene Girard, undergoes a significant change as she embarks on a journey of redemption after the loss of her son. As a result of this traumatic event, Irene has both a social and moral epiphany: the way in which Irene dresses, acts, and communicates completely changes. Social status and wealth become petty to her; instead she devotes her time to helping the vulnerable, like the poor, the sick and the corrupt. The Christian theme of morality is clear in the film, including the Catholic teaching of salvation in Irene’s quest. Irene’s journey echoes the mission of Saint Francis, and this Catholic iconography is utilized in this film to emphasize her transformation.

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