Sunday, December 2, 2012

#839. Fellini's Roma (1972)

Directed By: Federico Fellini

Starring: Britta Barnes, Peter Gonzales, Fiona Florence

Tag line: "The fall of the Roman Empire 1931-1972"

Trivia: The film was screened at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, but wasn't entered into the main competition

Federico Fellini's love letter to the city of Rome is a visual explosion, with images from the past and present that spring from its director’s own vibrant imagination.

Roma has no plot to speak of, save some early scenes in which a young man named Fellini (Peter Gonzales) travels to Rome in the 1930s, during the reign of Mussolini. He moves into a boarding house, takes in a stage show, and visits a brothel for the very first time. Aside from this minor attempt at weaving a story, Roma is little more than a collection of sequences, related to one another only by the fact they’re all set within the city's limits.

Parts of Roma play as if they were a documentary, including its most memorable scene, a visit to an underground construction site. It’s here that an extraordinary find is made; an ancient fresco, in pristine condition, is discovered behind a recently removed wall. But this relic from Rome’s history is no match for its current environment, and the frescoes are destroyed when the modern, polluted air hits them. 

Such “realistic” images of the present are interspersed with bizarre visions of the past, like the brothel, where women openly display themselves for their male patrons, and a very strange fashion show, in which the Catholic Church exhibits some of its newest - and most unusual - garments. Perhaps the best moment in all of Roma is the finale, where we join some motorbikes as they travel through the streets at high speeds. On their journey, the bikers pass a number of notable landmarks (including the Coliseum), yet never stop to take in a single one.

Ultimately, Fellini’s Roma is as much about its director as it is the Eternal City, giving us Rome’s past as Fellini remembers it, and only those portions of its present he chooses to explore. It is Rome as it exists in the mind of an artist, where reality can be twisted at will, and nothing is truly as it seems.

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