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FELLINI’S ROMA (ROMA)(director/writer: Federico Fellini; screenwriter: Bernardino Zapponi; cinematographer: Giuseppe Rotunno; editor: Giuseppe Rotunno; music: Nino Rota; cast: Peter Gonzales (Fellini at age 18), Gore Vidal (himself), Federico Fellini (himself), Anna Magnani (herself), Fiona Florence (Young Prostitute), Renato Giovanneli (Cardinal Ottaviani), Marne Maitland (Underground Guide), Stefano Mayore (Mussolini); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Turi Vasile; MGM; 1972-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)
“What Fellini can’t give us, is what’s not in him–a true sense of the political and the art.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Federico Fellini (“La Dolce Vita”/”La Strada”) in his decline still comes up with a wonderful, innovative, plotless, self-indulgent episodic essay on “his” adopted city of Rome, as the Eternal City where the modern meets the ancient without blinking an eye. He amusingly guides us through the city, eagerly showing us the city’s warts and grandeur and relating his dreams to Rome. Present are the familiar Fellini freak show personalities, the obese whores and scores of his stereotypical cartoonish characters, as well as an ecclesiastical fashion show which was sheer madness, a visit to a brothel, a variety show during WW11 interrupted by a stint in an air-raid shelter, and the film crew tagging along with an archaeological team through the site of the Rome subways. The glossy travelogue navigates its way from the 1930s to the early 1970s to in the end show the hippie invasion of Rome. There’s also a madcap motorcycle race driving by a traffic-jam near the Colosseum, that accentuates the maestro’s florid visual style in filmmaking.

“Roma” blends together actual footage and fictional set pieces, which is delivered as a valentine to the cinema. Rome is termed by his old acquaintance Gore Vidal as the “the city of illusions,” as the filmmaker tries to merge reality with fantasy and in that way explore the nature of an ever elusive Rome.

Fellini was the wide-eyed child growing up in Rimini and imagining what Rome would be like (which he could never get right), and visited it as an 18-year-old during Mussolini’s reign in 1931 staying at a colorful tenement boarding house and dining outdoors with his warm-hearted neighbors (who made sure the stranger never ate alone). He briefly discourses on Roman history–presenting his own obsessions with sex and religion that he ties to the appeal Rome has for him as an ongoing spectacle for the common and the absurd. This whimsical mix of documentary, fiction and autobiography, is a sentimental piece of nostalgia that reflects the director’s own feelings about the city’s glorious past and uncertain future. It seems like a continuation of his dream from Satyricon, and is worthwhile seeing just for the bizarre visuals never mind the unusual history lesson. What Fellini can’t give us, is what’s not in him–a true sense of the political and the art.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”