Between Heaven and Hell: On Melodramatic Issues in Rossellini’s Stromboli

  • Vincenzo Maggitti University of Stockholm
Keywords: Melodrama, Roberto Rossellini, Neo-realism, Volcano, Ingrid Bergman


This article is focused on a film by Roberto Rossellini, Stromboli (1949) whose title comes from the island, off the northwest coasts of Sicily, on which the film is set. Given the thematic relevance of borders in the post‐war drama of a foreign refugee who moves to the unknown island with a husband met through the barbed wire of the camp, the article analyzes to what extent this theme is rebounded in the unstable genre of the film.

In Stromboli a coexistence of tropoi belonging to different traditions of melodrama can be spotted, tracing back to the theatrical origins of the genre, as detailed in Jean‐Marie Tommaseau´s recent study. But one must take into account, nevertheless, the documentary‐drive that inspires the film, linking it to Rossellini´s approach to the new unmapped reality of the Italian landscape, recently discussed by Angelo Restivo in his essay on Italian cinema during the economic boom. The interplay of these theoretical references in Stromboli can bring to the fore the theme of space and time borders as more relevant than the traditional critical filing of the film as a study of loneliness, together with the other four features made with actress Ingrid Bergman. The compounded analysis results in a melodramatic re‐vision of the film, that can entail the ending shift towards the holy and the sacred often dismissed as improper. The article comments on the film conveying melodrama into a field supposedly outside of its genre concerns.


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Author Biography

Vincenzo Maggitti, University of Stockholm

Vincenzo Maggitti is visiting assistant professor of Italian language and culture at the University of Stockholm. Graduated in English Studies, he is PhD in Comparative Literature (University of Roma Tre). His interests focus on adaptation theory and novelization. He has got essays published on literary magazines and in miscellaneous volumes.

“Wallace McCutchen’s The Black Hand: A Different Version of a Biograph Kidnapping”, Mafia Movies: A Reader, Ed. Dana Renga, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2011: 51-58.

“In cerca della Signora Bathurst: il cinegiornale come artificio narrativo da Kipling a Welles”, L'immagine ripresa in parola. Letteratura, cinema e altre visioni, Eds. Matteo Colombi – Stefania Esposito, Roma, Meltemi, 2008: 196-217.

“Il duplice esilio di Erich von Stroheim”, Lo sguardo esiliato. Cultura europea e cultura americana fra delocalizzazione e radicamento, Eds. Cristina Giorcelli – Camilla Cattarulla, Napoli, Loffredo University Press, 2008: 247-268.

Lo schermo fra le righe. Cinema e letteratura del Novecento, Napoli, Liguori, 2007.

“La TV secondo Baldini”, La forma del fuoco e la memoria del vento, Ed. Viola Papetti, Roma, Ed. Storia e Letteratura, 2005: 99-115.



Anile, Alberto – Giannice, Gabriella M., La guerra dei vulcani. Storia di cinema e d’amore, Genova, Le Mani, 2000.

Bernardi, Sandro, Il paesaggio nel cinema italiano, Venezia, Marsi-lio, 2002.

Brooke, Peter, “The Melodramatic Imagination”, Landy 1991: 61.

Brunette, Peter, Roberto Rossellini, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996.

Dagrada, Elena, Le variazioni trasparenti. I film di Ingrid Bergman con Roberto Rossellini, Milano, LED, 2005.

Elsaesser, Thomas, “Tales of Sound and Fury: Observations on the Family Melodrama” (1972), Landy 1991: 68-92.

Everett, Wendy, “Lost in Translation? The European Road Movie, or a Genre adrift in the cosmos”, Literature/Film Quarterly, 37.3 (2009): 172.

Landy, Marcia (ed.), Imitations of Life, A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1991.

Mulvey, Laura, Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image, London, Reaktion Books, 2006.

Restivo, Angelo, The Cinema of Economic Miracle. Visuality and Modernization in the Italian Art Film, Durham & London, Duke University Press, 2002.

Rogoff, Irit, Terra Infirma: Geography's Visual Culture, London and New York, Routledge, 2000.

Shiel, Mark, Italian Neorealism. Rebuilding the Cinematic City, London, Wallflower, 2006.

Thommaseau, Jean-Marie, Mèlodramatiques, Paris, Presses Universitaires de Vincennes, 2009.


Europa ´51, Dir. Roberto Rossellini, Italia, 1952.

Ossessione, Dir. Luchino Visconti, Italia, 1943.

Stromboli, Dir. Roberto Rossellini, USA-Italia, 1949.

Viaggio in Italia, Dir. Roberto Rossellini, Italia-Francia, 1954.

How to Cite
Maggitti, V. (2011). Between Heaven and Hell: On Melodramatic Issues in Rossellini’s <i>Stromboli</i&gt;. Between, 1(1).
Writing and Visions: Threshold Crossings