of the great director Federico Fellini’s more curious motion pictures is his
1972 part-documentary/part-fictional collage that consists of “impressions” of
Rome, both past and present. In many ways, it is the middle chapter of a
trilogy that comprises Fellini Satyricon (1969)
and Amarcord (1973), although not
many film historians view them as such.
Roma is a love letter, so
to speak, to Italy’s capital city. The film takes place in three time periods—sometime
during the 1930s, the war years, and the present (i.e., 1971-72, when the movie
was made). It is also very much a product of its time, when the counter-culture
movement was still in full swing. The modern sequences of Roma are populated by “hippies” and long-haired youth, as well as
motorcyclists, intellectuals (Gore Vidal makes an appearance as himself), and
Fellini as himself. The sequences cut
back and forth from the past to the present, presenting a story-less narrative
that is jumbled and episodic; but the visuals of cartoonish decadence and
surreal settings make up a fascinating piece of celluloid.
of the faces in the film—and I do mean “faces,” because Fellini always cast the
most absurd caricatures as extras in his later pictures—are recognizable in Amarcord (easily one of the director’s
best works). Anna Magnani provides allegedly her last screen appearance at the
end of Roma, where she tells the narrator
(Fellini, presumably) to go away and leave her alone. Many Fellini-esque
hallmarks abound in the movie—feuding families, grotesque prostitutes, and irreverent
1930s-40s sequences are autobiographical. A young man arrives in Rome to be a
journalist (as Fellini did), and stays with a large family that his mother
knows. He explores the city, visits brothels, and goes to music hall
performances. The present day scenes are more documentary-like, following the
director and a film crew around the city as they shoot a traffic jam, the
excavation of an ancient Roman home, and—the highlight of the movie—a
wacked-out fashion show for priests, nuns, and bishops. Totally bizarre.
Criterion Collection presents a 2K digital restoration of the international
version of the picture (120 minutes). The long-lost original Italian cut was
seventeen minutes longer, but these deleted scenes are included as supplements
(as restored as possible). The feature comes with an uncompressed monaural
soundtrack, as well as an audio commentary by Frank Burke, author of Fellini’s Films.
supplements include new interviews with filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino on Fellini’s
influence, and poet and Fellini friend Valerio Magrelli. There’s a collection
of Felliniana (posters, artwork) from the archive of collector Don Young, and
the theatrical trailer. An essay by film scholar David Forgacs adorns the
Fellini’s Roma is a mess of a film,
to be sure, but it’s always fun to play in a mess made by Fellini. It is a
welcome addition to Criterion’s stable of excellent cinema.