I Clowns (The Clowns) (1970)

I Clowns (The Clowns) (1970)

I Clowns (The Clowns)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

The culmination of filmmaker Federico Fellini's lifelong love affair with circus folk was his 1971 The Clowns (I clowns). Fellini's alter ego this time is a young boy, taking in his first circus (again, we're treated to the "parade" motif so often utilized by the director). As the clowns go through their rollicking routines, Fellini takes the time to snipe at movie critics by having one humorless newspaperman, who keeps repeating "What does it mean?", inundated with pails of water. There is also … More

Rating: G
Genre: Television, Art House & International, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Federico Fellini, Bernardino Zapponi
On DVD: Feb 22, 2011

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Critic Reviews for I Clowns (The Clowns)

All Critics (15) | Top Critics (4)

[Fellin] turns the world into his circus and, in a liberated, quasi-documentary style, resurrects some of history's great pagliacci with their cornucopia of practical jokes, smashed hats, pulled chairs, popping balloons and squirting flowers.

Full Review… | March 11, 2015
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Fellini's documentary celebration of the dying art of the clown is his best film in years.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

It's not that The Clowns is not a good deal of fun, or that it is boring; it's just that -- to me, anyway -- this sort of coda doesn't do justice to the entire career.

Full Review… | May 9, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

This is artful and sometimes very amusing, but it doesn't work as fiction because Fellini is tied to facts, and it doesn't work as documentary because Fellini will not (cannot?) abandon his gift of giving the raw material an artistic shape.

Full Review… | October 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

[An] undeniably beautiful film.

Full Review… | March 11, 2015
The Spectator

Italy's great ringmaster of the cinema returns to the source of his inspiration -- the circus -- and skilfully absorbs it into his own personal vision.

Full Review… | March 11, 2015
Radio Times

Audience Reviews for I Clowns (The Clowns)


"The Clowns" was partly made for Italian television, so perhaps it shouldn't be measured against other Federico Fellini films. Regardless, it's probably the director's least interesting work. If you're someone who still howls with glee at pratfalls and confetti cannons, please disregard this review. But otherwise, be warned that this tribute to the traditional clown is unlikely to make you laugh. Not even once.

Fellini and his crew visit some circuses in Italy and France, and document various ring antics. A few wistful, retired clowns are interviewed. But this is not a strict documentary. The film opens with a depiction of the young Fellini sneaking into a traveling circus. We glimpse his town, where the sideshow qualities of everyday people underscore Fellini's standard "Life is a carnival" manifesto. The climax is an extended "death of a clown" set piece. A segment with Anita Ekberg trying to buy a panther also feels staged, and many other scenes seem too perfectly executed to be true. Fellini was too much of a taskmaster to leave everything to chance.

There isn't much insight into the clowns' minds and, beyond some knowledgeable talk of the distinction between "white clowns" and "augustes," minimal academic background is offered.

Fellini appears on camera as himself -- "The Clowns" is part a documentary, and part a documentary about the making of a documentary. The can't-miss moment is when a pretentious interviewer asks Fellini about the film's "message," and some prankster drops buckets over both parties' heads. Clearly, Fellini realized this was not one of his major statements.

My viewing experience was somewhat hobbled -- the Italian dialogue was subtitled, but not the French. Luckily, the film is mostly visual.

Eric Broome
Eric Broome

Super Reviewer

Some of Fellini's movies show a zest for a circus-like frenzy so it was only appropriate that this is the culmination of that.

Rodney Eckrich

Made for Italian TV documentary (sort of) by Fellini. I've seen it 3-4 times and I'd watch it again anytime. Best film I've ever seen about clowns.

Morris Nelms

Super Reviewer

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