When you hear the names Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini your mind can instantly be transported to any one of their famous collaborating efforts that took place between 1950 and 1954. Each film has something to offer the cinematic world, but because a few of them are considered so extraordinary- such monumental achievements, one or two of the other titles may have unfairly fallen into obscurity. Such is the case with the final film they made together before their divorce, “Fear” or “La Paura” (1954).
Based on the novel by Stefan Zweig, “Fear” features Bergman as Irene Wagner, the wife of the brilliant German Professor Albert Wagner (Mathias Wieman), who has spent his post-war years in a prison. While he was away (and even now that he has returned), Irene has engaged in an affair with a single, younger man named Kreuger (Erich Baumann). With her husband’s return, Irene has begun living in a state of constant fear, guilt, and anxiety over her illicit relationship, and is eager to end the affair.
That is when a mysterious woman enters her life. She introduces herself as Johann Schultze (Renate Mannhardt), and explains that she is the cast aside lover of Kreuger. Her initial jealousy towards Irene has grown now into a plot for revenge. Schultze begins blackmailing Irene, small amounts at first, but the price increases quickly once Schultze sees how desperate Irene has become, and how her overwhelming fear of being exposed now controls her every move.
What is most unusual about “Fear” is that it ventures into so many different genres without dwelling on any one element to long. The story is something that could have easily been made into a 1950’s American film noir thriller. Rossellini masterfully uses the darkness and shadows to keep the film feeling like a more basic crime film than a character driven drama. It also has roots in the suspense genre, more like a Alfred Hitchcock or Henri-Georges Clouzot picture from the same time period. And then, of course, there are the two elements that you can always expect in a Rossellini film, the historical and mood defining locations, and the deeply rooted and always relatable lives of the main characters. “Fear” was filmed entirely on location in Munich, and six years after Rossellini’s masterful “Germany Year Zero” (1948), the war ridden landscape is still evident and harrowing. Few directors understood how to continuously use their locations as a character as well as Roberto Rossellini, and “Fear” is another example of that fact.
And then, on top of all of that, there is Ingrid Bergman. Her presence alone makes any film worth watching, but this film is so different from her other Rossellini pictures, and she has to reach down deep and pull out a different kind of performance. Her character is living in fear (obviously, from the title), but because she is also alone in her fear, most of her acting is done with few actions and even less dialogue. Bergman is tasked with showing fear with her body and eyes, and somewhat expectantly makes it look easy. It’s not one of her best roles, but she still manages to make something where so many others would have nothing. Every look, glance, thought, or smile is filled with despair, and between her acting and the haunting musical score composed by Roberto’s brother, Renzo, the audience too becomes afraid, even if they don’t know why.