Stromboli, terra di dio is the moody, deliberate character study of a desperate yet stubborn woman, played to perfection by Ingrid Bergman, who is pushed to the brink of madness (and possibly beyond).
It begins with uncharacteristic romanticism from director Roberto Rossellini, with a dreamy, idealized love affair between woman and man in a refugee camp, separated by a barbed wire. They agree to wed, and the two leave together to his homeland, the small island Stromboli.
She quickly discovers this is not what she had envisioned, despising every aspect of married life from the rugged terrain to her ancient, crumbling home to her husband’s measly wages. Her one companion is in the village priest, a friendship she destroys when she reveals her disturbing past and even makes romantic advances toward a man of God.
From this shocking midpoint, all bets are off as we realize our “heroine” is a seriously troubled woman led by her momentary passions, not by her heart. The film is not a moving journey of her learning to adapt to a new lifestyle, but watching to see how far she will unravel.
The heart-pounding finale leaves a great amount of ambiguity and room for interpretation, an exciting ending for a mostly neorealistic work. Rossellini expertly weaves together the natural landscape of the island with the narrative and thematic structure to underline the isolation and danger Bergman’s character has gotten herself into.
While slow at times, Stromboli packs a punch when necessary, and becomes an engaging and informative look at rural life in postwar Europe and how far a woman will go to escape her past life.