E la nave va (1983)



(director/writer: Federico Fellini; screenwriter: Tonino Guerra; cinematographer: Giuseppe Rotunno; editor: Ruggero Mastroianni; music: Gianfranco Plenizio; cast: Freddie Jones (Orlando), Barbara Jefford (Ildebranda Cuffari), Victor Poletti (Aureliano Fuciletto), Peter Cellier (Sir Reginald J. Dongby, opera manager), Elisa Mainardi (Teresa Valegnani), Norma West (Lady Violet Dongby Albertini, promiscuous wife of the opera manager), Paolo Paoloni (Il Maestro Albertini), Sarah-Jane Varley (Dorotea), Fiorenzo Serra (Grand Duke of Harzock), Pina Bausch (Blind sister of the Grand Duke), Pasquale Zito (Bassano), Janet Suzman (Edmea Tetua); Runtime: 132; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Franco Cristaldi; Criterion Collection; 1983-Italy/France-in Italian with English subtitles)

“Veers from the tedious to the fascinating.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Federico Fellini (“City of Women”/Fellini’s Roma”/”Ginger and Fred”), at the twilight of his noteworthy career, keeps this plotless minor film afloat with a series of beautiful visuals as it veers from the tedious to the fascinating, more a Ship of the Absurd than a Ship of Fools film. Fellini wrote this busy, messy and soulless period film with Tonino Guerra, that was entirely shot in the Cinecitta studio. It’s a fantasy satire on the time just after the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, which sparked the onset of WWI.

In the summer of 1914, the luxury liner the Gloria N. leaves the harbor of Naples with a list of passengers that include Italian royalty, statesmen, aristocrats, opera singers, art patrons, businessmen and a rhinoceros. Its purpose is to take the ashes of the recently deceased great opera singer Edmea (Janet Suzman) to her remote native island of Erimo for dispersal.

The ship acts as a heavy-handed metaphor for the passing of the crumbling era, as Fellini casts a loving and a critical eye on the self-absorbed beautiful people who are unaware of world events. Outsider Orlando (Freddie Jones), the big drinking journalist, acts as narrator as he introduces us to the passengers and lays on us whatever gossip surrounds them. The singers sing and frolic (with two most colorful skits that include a symphony played on wine glasses filled with water and the divas and tenors serenading the stokers). Things take on a more serious note when the captain on the third night at sea rescues Serbians fleeing the war on rafts. The refugees make most of the aristocrats feel uncomfortable until they perform their peasant music in steerage. Tension mounts when an Austro-Hungarian battleship arrives and demands the refugees surrender to them after the funeral ceremony.

Unfortunately, aside from being a dutiful observer of all the chatter, Fellini as usual has nothing much to say about these political events and as a history lesson it never tells us what we didn’t already know. But the film is worth seeing purely for its bizarre visuals and the dazzling ship that is setting sail in a plastic sea, which gives it a stunning surreal look.