Masters of Cinema released one of their first Fellini discs with the underappreciated Il Bidone, now comes their second release in as many months – the director’s esoteric microcosm of Roma and one of his most acclaimed films of the 1970s. The film drafts historical moments from pre-and-post war Italy, with a young Fellini (Peter Gonzales) lost in this new world. Education, food, community, sex, art and war inform the background of these episodes.
Each passage is staged with the gorgeous attention to detail, passion and social shrewdness that has made Fellini one of the most renowned directors of all. Of these episodes the one to draw most attention is a passage where a pageant is staged for religious figureheads. Staged with a fantastical range of colours and visual invention this one scene presents the religious elite as unreal entities. It’d be more noticeably satirical if it wasn’t so stunningly to look at. With all the discussion points in Fellini’s Roma the pageant receives far too much attention when you consider that same level of pure visual poetry is present throughout, with the added bonus of the occasional bout of biting satire.
As the film opens, we are introduced to a young Fellini in school with all the religious trappings with the school headmaster screaming that the children will all ‘go to hell’ if they look at a rogue slide that shows the bottom of a woman. It’s with that upbringing that the aforementioned scene shines so brilliantly and otherworldly. In moving from this world interested only in the pure intentions of religion, we are introduced to Rome with a scene in a cinema where the fight put up for a row of seats borders of the comical and ludicrous. From that hint we are introduced into Rome which can only be described as a state of pure chaos, bodies everywhere with each one trying to be the loudest in the room. Something eloquently depicted in a scene around a series of dinner tables, the hilarious figures of speech and the voracious appetites turn something as simple as an evening meal into a huge deal. It is in those hilariously blunt, made up on the spot, adages that we find the spine of what defines Fellini’s eye on Roma, it’s not the beautiful historical architecture but the stereotypical Italian male who has become the preserve of lazy comedy writers over the years. This is at least true with when pairing an outsider’s perspective with the escalation in the stage show episode.
Ironic it is then that the films at its best in an episode of near perfect visual storytelling. Deep under Rome the Roman authorities are looking to build an underground railway like those dotted across Europe, a task made more difficult by the construction team stumbling across long-lost bygone monuments every few hundred yards. Visiting the site is the Fellini cipher and a female companion, as we join them they’re chugging along a rudimentary rail line on their way to a recently unearthed catacomb, host to beautiful lost art. Like anyone else would in their circumstance, the pair are speechless at the treasure-trove they’ve found. A state of pure adulation that is interrupted by the fresh air from the surface calcifying the art, ruining it forever. In all its crudeness of message, it’s a perfect visual presentation of the way old Rome and new Rome cannot exist as one. Not only that, the scale of the operation that Fellini was afforded would make any Hollywood set-builder weep with envy. It’s a beautiful poignant moment made all the memorable but its reliance of visual rather than vocal storytelling.
There can no bones made about it, this isn’t a typical review for the simple reason that Roma isn’t a simple film. For everybody who meets the film with a wide-eyed sense of wonder there will be another person frustrated by a lack of story, character development or any other cues found in narrative or even documentary film. Look past those irregularities and the film presents itself as a poetic, visual painting of Roman life – Fellini’s Roma is an astounding achievement.
• Gorgeous restored 1080p HD transfer of the film
• Outtakes from the film
• 36-PAGE BOOKLET featuring the words of Fellini, and more!
Fellini’s Roma was released on Eureka’s Masters of Cinema label on the 24th February.