Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 8/12/07 w/ Additional Edits.
Directed by Federico Fellini and co-written with Bernardino Zapponi, Roma tells two stories based on Fellini's own life. The first narrative is about Fellini's life as a young man in the early 1940s while a second narrative is about a director making a film about his beloved city. With appearances from Peter Gonzalez as the young Fellini along with such longtime associates as Anna Magnani, Gore Vidal, Feodor Chaliapin, and Fellini as himself. Roma is a charming, delightful love-letter to the city where Fellini made a name for himself.
It's the 1930s as a group of school kids are being taught by the world of Rome and its rich history. For a young boy named Federico, he would discover the world of Rome through the medium of the cinema. The boy’s life was changed as by 1940, he arrived in Rome where he sees the city in all of its wonders. Living with a large family in an apartment, he sees the culture that is Rome. Now it's 1971 and Rome has changed but not for the better. The real Federico Fellini is staging a shoot on a traffic jam to Rome where his film crew captures the rainy city on the road with shots of ruins and other places.
Fellini is now being asked into his approach into making his film about Rome, some are believing that in showing the bad side, it will make people to not go. Yet, there are those who feel tired of the commercial look of the city as the times are now changing. Even as Fellini recalls his own experience in a theater he once frequented to. During the war back in the early 40s, the young Fellini was a regular seeing performances and acts on stage including a man named Alvaro doing a Fred Astaire routine. Yet, despite heckles from a few unruly men, the show was always wonderful. Unfortunately, it's the middle of the war as Fellini and the patrons are forced to hide underground during an air raid. When it's over, everyone believes the worst is over but unfortunately, the sirens are heard yet again as the young man is forced to watch horror from afar.
Back in the 70s, there is a disdain for so-called hippie generation as Fellini again recalls his own memories of free love vs. paid love as he remembers the underground world of brothels from the working-class brothels that featured semi-attractive women to the more posh brothels that Fellini and a friend attended that were both ran by women. The world that Fellini remembers is very different to what his film crew saw as they went underground where they discovered a 2000-year old house buried under the city with its paintings starting to fade. Back in the 40s, Fellini attends a ceremony with an old princess that becomes this exotic stage presentation concerning the Pope while returning back in time to see how the city has changed through the times.
While the film doesn't have much of a plot, it is however a love-letter to the city of Rome. While a lot of scenes in the film's flashback sequences are based on Fellini's own life, the film is about Rome through its days as an Empire to the early years in the 20th Century where it was a town of promise. When the film shifts through the 1970s, it is a very different city as tourists arrive to see its wonders but not the reality. Even as its surrounded by hippies and its idealism, the idea of what is to be Roman seems lost through the changing times as modernism through technology and things has arrived. While the film lags a bit due to pacing issues, Fellini makes the most of it through his eye-wielding vision and lavish presentation about the old times. The film also includes what has to be one of the best endings involving the great landmarks of Rome itself.
Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno brings a wonderful look to the film from the naturalistic look early in the film to the extravagant lighting in some of the film's Rome sequences, notably the interiors to shots of the city itself. Rotunno's camera captures the beauty and also decaying look of Rome with its wonderful exteriors. Production designer Danilo Donati and set decorator Andrea Fantacci also do a wonderful job with the film's unique look from the stage designs of the variety show in the theater to the runway show young Fellini sees near the end of the film that is filled with amazement. Donati also does the film's costumes that are just as lavish and exotic as its director. Editor Ruggero Mastroianni brings some excellent cutting, especially in shifting sequences to convey the film's unconventional structure. Sound mixer Renato Cadueri also works to convey the film’s atmosphere in the sequences, notably the air raid sirens in one sequence to the film's ending.
Longtime collaborator Nino Rota brings a variety of music to the film ranging from traditional, Italian folk music to big-band 40s as well as some of his own orchestral work. Rota's score is filled with magic and elegance to convey the romanticism of Rome in the film's early sequences to the loss of that innocence through its 70s sequence. It's one of the film's finer highlights though it's minor compared to his other work with Fellini.
The film's cast is largely an ensemble with very few people standing out. The only actors who do stand out are Peter Gonzales as the 18-year old Fellini and Stefano Mayore as the boy Fellini. Those performances are very memorable and joyful in emphasizing the innocence of Fellini from boyhood to manhood. Other performances that included Pia De Doses as a princess and Renato Giovannoli as a cardinal in the runway scene are memorable while cameos from writer Gore Vidal, Italian actress Anna Magnani, Alvaro Vitali as a Fred Astaire impersonator, Feodor Chaliapin, and in the rarely-seen, longer Italian version, Alberto Sordi and Marcello Mastroianni. The film also includes cameos from then-unknowns like Dennis Christopher and Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson as hippies.
While this might be considered to be minor Fellini in comparison to some of his other, earlier films, Roma still has something to offer from the great Italian director. Despite a lack of a plot, standout performances, or lagging pacing issues, it's a film that is enjoyable to watch. Even for those interested in the city of Rome and how Fellini sees it. Yet, it is still a film that Fellini fans might enjoy, even some of the references that relate to his other films. In the end, Roma is a delightful love-letter to the city of Rome by the always interesting Federico Fellini.
Federico Fellini Films: (Variety Lights) - The White Sheik - I, Vitelloni - (L'amore in Citta-Un'agenzia matrimoinale) - La Strada - Il bidone - Nights of Cabiria - (La Dolce Vita - (Boccaccio '70-Le tentatzoni di Dottor Antonio) - 8 1/2 - Juliet of the Spirits - Histoires extraordinaires-Toby Dammit - (Fellini: A Director's Notebook) - Fellini Satyricon - (I Clowns) - Amarcord - Casanova - Orchestra Rehearsal - City of Women - And the Ship Sails On - Ginger and Fred - (Intervista) - (The Voice of the Moon)
© thevoid99 2012