Fellini Satyricon (1969)

March 4, 2010

Director: Federico Fellini

Country: Italy

Summary: A film loosely based on Petronius’s book, Satyricon.

Impressions: This film feels like a giant dream-sequence. As I’ve watched Fellini’s progression as a director through his films, from La Strada to Juliet of the Spirits, I’ve seen him drift farther and farther from neorealism and almost wholly into fantasy. Fellini Satyricon seems to embellish that aspect, the pure fantasy. The protagonist is a very unlikeable character, self-absorbed and absent-minded, but that is to be expected in the reign of Emperor Nero in ancient Rome.

After his lover is stolen by his former collegue and friend, Ascilto, Enclopio vows to hunt him down and steal his lover back. What follows are a series of episodes depicting the sinful deeds of Enclopio and the other denizens of Rome, indulging in the worst vices of human nature to an obscene degree. Enclopio continuously laments his situation and never blames himself for the situations he ends up in, cursing Ascilto orĀ  bad luck. Thrust into a series of bad situations, much like The Nights of Cabiria, Enclopio travels through a dreamlike Rome, the antithesis of romanticized architecture. It’s a ride unlike any I’ve had the privilege to view before, and I recommend it to anyone who can tolerate the thin, thin line between fantasy and reality.

5 out of 5

8 1/2 (1963)

February 19, 2010

Director: Federico Fellini

Country: Italy

Summary: Guido, a famous director, is suffering from writer’s block during the pre-filming of his new movie. Suffering from strange dreams and fantasies, he seeks the perfect muse for his work from among the countless women he meets.

Impressions: 8 1/2 is Fellini’s greatest work, the one that cemented him as one of the best directors of all time. Not La Strada, not La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2. If you can sit through all 2 and 1/2 hours of it, you’ll see why. The imagery is solid, the story is complex and visceral, and the characters are flawed (the best kind of characters). All of Guido’s problems are Fellini’s, too, and as a result this is a very autobiographical film. There’s really not much I can say about this movie that hasn’t been said by better critics than me, so I just recommend you watch it yourself and see what I’m talking about.

5 out of 5

La Dolce Vita (1960)

February 12, 2010

Director: Federico Fellini

Country: Italy

Summary: A series of exploits in the life of Marcello, a member of the paparazzi.

Impressions: I guess I was expecting this film to be different, sort of a series of vignettes, but there was an overarching plot even though there wasn’t really a normal resolution. Some of the episodes in Marcello’s life were interesting, but some weren’t. The final scene is interesting, but I don’t know what to make of it. I may come to appreciate this film after I’ve read more about it’s creation.

3 out of 5

Director: Federico Fellini

Country: Italy

Summary: The story of Cabiria, an Italian prostitute, and her life as she faces a stream of steadily-worsening scenarios that force her to gather her willpower and put up a strong front against a seemingly cruel and unusual world.

Impressions: I am reveling in the aftermath of this movie. It’s that rare, special time after watching a good movie that you view it as a great, maybe even perfect movie, despite any reviews or criticisms you might have had while watching it. For years, I’ve felt La Strada was Fellini’s strongest film, but I never really ventured too deeply into the waters in regards to his work, having never seen films like Amarcord and La Dolce Vita. But right now I’m snagged on Le notti di Cabiria (The Nights of Cabiria).

Giulietta Masina plays Cabiria Ceccarelli, a prostitute from Italy. She’s a fiesty, strong-willed woman who is challenged throughout the film by a series of what I would almost refer to as “torturous” situations. It starts with an almost comical episode in which her boyfriend, a man she knows nothing about, pushes her into a river and steals her purse. Though she almost drowns, she puts up a strong front after being saved and acts like it doesn’t bother her. However, Masina’s acting conveys how deeply she is wounded.

As a prostitute, Cabiria is bound to a life of lonliness; she will never know the true love of a man because her profession requires her to keep her relationships to the barest minimum. Even as we meet her friends, it is clear that they in no way relate to Cabiria on an intimate level. Her closest friend is Wanda, a fellow prostitute who relates to Cabiria in the same way that two people might share a dream and find comfort in each other’s understanding of that dream.

It’s not long before you’re bound to the character you’re watching–even if Cabiria is prone to fits of angry or irritation, to spit out words due from being spited by a dark world–because every member of the audience can relate to a situation that has gone from being the perfect fantasy to a gritty, real-life nightmare. Cabiria is experiencing this on an epic scale. As her life’s failures become more and more grandiose, the audience cannot help but feel more sympathetic, more understanding. An emotional attachment has formed.

By the end of the film, I was clutching my hands in trepedation, hoping against all hope that Cabiria would finally find the happiness every human deserves. The film has a remarkably cyclical nature, though, and there are boundless similarities between the first and last segments of the film, which might be considered a surprising foreshadowing that makes the tension of the climax that much more painful.

It doesn’t hurt that Giulietta Masina is a beautiful woman. No matter what ridiculous fashion they dress her in, she moves and acts in such a way that you can sense her intention to hide this truth from the viewer. But everytime she smiles, whether out of nervousness or pure joy, your heart skips a beat.

I wholeheartedly recommend this film to anyone who has the willpower to watch a woman knocked down over and over again by life, only to rise up everytime. A woman with the ultimate willpower. It is evocative of other films of hardships like The Pursuit of Happyness or Requiem For a Dream. These are all realist films, and though Cabiria walks a fine line at times between neo-realism and fantasy, there is never any doubt that the character of Cabiria is no fantasy; this is a woman who could exist, flesh and blood, even today.

5 out of 5

La Strada (1954)

January 30, 2010

Director: Federico Fellini

Country: Italy

Summary: The fairytale-like adventure of a young woman named Gelsomina who is bought by a strongman named Zampano to act as his assistant during his performances as a traveling actor.

Impressions: La Strada won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1956. It’s a triumphant work by Fellini, and the first of his many kudos to be acknowledged not only by Italy but by the world at large. Anthony Quinn and Guilietta Masina fight tooth-and-nail for control of each scene because their characters are so true and believeable. These characters have countless unique facets and flaws which make the viewer believe in the quality of the picture, and lament the tragedies that befall them as the narrative progresses. A heart-wrenching story about love, rejection, lonliness, ultimately seeking a purpose in life, La Strada also includes a variety of interesting and beautiful scenes that make the running time simply fly by. It’s not hard to see why Fellini won his award.

5 out of 5

The White Sheik (1952)

January 21, 2010

Director: Federico Fellini

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Summary: A young woman, recently married, comes to Rome on her honeymoon with the secret intention of stealing away to meet the love of her life, a movie star known as “The White Sheik.” However, her expectations are foiled by the intervention of reality, as it turns out that truth is never as well-received as fiction.

Impressions: I was surprised, after watching La Strada and 8 1/2 by Fellini, to see him directing what was essentially a romantic comedy with more chaste tastes than we see today. There are a lot of very awkward laughs in this movie, and I see the camera techniques and characters in this film echoed in the perverted tropes of the modern day, with movie stars who are more glamorous onscreen than in life, or strangers that pop up for no reason and disappear as quickly, or people making decisions that seem contrary to real life but yield the best results for comedy. If you’ve only seen 8 1/2, it will make you reexamine the way you looked at Fellini, because the atmosphere is very different.

3 out of 5

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