Posted on 4/03/12 07:28 PM
While conversing once, Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich once agreed that Federico Fellini is still essentially an outsider to Rome, a small-town boy looking through the city gates who is dreaming of the wonders this amazing new world has. More than any other of his films, Fellini's Roma helps to confirm this view of Il Maestro. The Rome in this film is entirely invented, a fantastical city that only vaguely resembles those of our world. Fellini's Roma is about just what the title says - Fellini's Rome.
The films concentrates on two journeys to Rome for Federico Fellini, and he alternates between the two several times throughout the film. In the first journey, he is a young man who arrives by train from Rimini to live a new life in the city he has always dreamed of. Prior to the scene of his arrival, Fellini's childhood in a strict, prison-like Catholic school is shown, when all he seemed to care about was causing mischief and dreaming of the capital city. Fellini moves into an insane boarding house filled with children and adults who act like children. Due to the summer heat, people eat outdoors in large crowds at restaraunt that can be found on nearly every street. As crazy as his fellow occupants are, they are well-meaning, and never let Fellini dine alone. In old Italia, community gatherings were of the highest importance, as several of the scenes of young Fellini indicate.
Unfortunately, Fellini moved to the city during a difficult time, when WWII was about to begin. Later in the film, we witness a variety show where the acts are not as funny as the reactions from the (mostly uninterested) audience. While three women are singing on stage, a man briefly interrupts their act to inform the crowd that the enemy forces (that is, American and British) have invaded Sicily, but several of their ships and planes have been destroyed. After this, the audience becomes far more involved in the acts, but during a dance involving a young woman that most of the men are obviously attracted to, the sirens go off, and everyone flees to the bomb shelters. Most of them do not believe anyone would bomb the city The Pope lives in, though once they leave the shelters, they are shocked to learn the opposite.
The final scenes following the young Fellini concentrate on his visits to the brothels. While in Rimini, he always heard amazing stories about Roman women, and now the learns for himself. These scenes are compared to an "ecclesiastical fashion show" where priests are on roller skates, nuns where neon lights, and there are strange hats with wings to provide air conditioning. During this bizarre event, one of the nuns can be heard to say that the world must always follow the Church, and not the other way around. Of course, the opposite seems to be happening.
The second voyage concentrates on Fellini in contemporary times (1972) leading his film crew throughout the city. We first see them caught up in a large traffic jam, travelling through the highways for what seems to be an entire day. The cameras capture everything - random drivers, an accident, a rain storm, horses, policemen, the Colosseum, the crew, Fellini, and, indeed, the cameras themselves. Their next stop is a park, where some tourists ask Fellini if his film will show all of Rome. His response sums up not just Fellini's Roma, but his entire filmography - "I believe one should be true to themselves."
In perhaps the most lasting scenes from the film, the crew go underground the film the building of a subway tunnel, when a large hole is discovered. After digging a little further, the hole reveals itself to the diggers as an ancient house, hidden underground for thousands of years. The walls are covered in frescoes of people who seem to watch with sadness as these newcomers invade their home. Suddenly, the once new-looking frescoes begin the fade to the point where they are barely visible, as the fresh air begins the fill the rooms. The old disappeared when the new arrived.
We then move on to an outside dinner not unlike one from the young Fellini scenes, where crazy things happen and none of the dialogue seems to be about what is actually happening. The films ends watching a large number of motorcycles racing through the city streets, completely the opposite of the earlier traffic jam. In the contemporary Rome, people mostly seem to converse on the roads, no longer having the time to get together like years before. In most of the scenes when people do get together, it's only to agree on their hatred of the hippies invading their city.
Today, the film can be seen as a dry-run for his next film, Amarcord, a film with even more ambition, unforgettable images, and vulgar elements, but that does not mean Fellini's Roma can not be enjoyed on its own. Most of the film is created with loving detail. Fellini's movies, especially after the 50's, are about presenting simple things in fantastic, unforgettable ways, and in that regard this film does not disappoint. What is disappointing, however, is that Fellini fails to deliver a true sense of his city. We see Fellini's Rome, but we never see the real Rome, leaving me somewhat unsatisfied when it was over. Still, Fellini's Roma was quite a joy to watch, and remains an interesting look inside the director's head.