The highest value of a classic lies in the ability to embrace time as a whole. It comes from the past to question the present and it speaks to the future. Well aware of this universal truth, Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò always tries to feature iconic films in its program of events, and Federico Fellini’s Roma was screened on December 16, on the occasion of the Criterion Collection release of the movie.
A continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, the Criterion Collection has been dedicated, since 1984, to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality original supplements. Issa Club, Producer at Criterion Collection, confirms that the new version of Roma is a 2K digital restoration, which aims at bringing the attention back on a movie by Fellini which has been a bit underrated and underestimated in comparison to other more “Fellinesque” titles, like La dolce vita — whose new version was released in 2014. Among other assets, the new film comes with an interview with filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino on the lasting influence of Fellini, an interview with poet and Fellini’s friend Valerio Magrelli, and an essay by David Forgcas, film scholar and Zerilli-Marimò Chair in Contemporary Italian Studies.
Mr. Forgcas also attended the event and introduced the movie. In seven flash minutes he was able to summarize and point out the key points of the movie, by warning the audience: “The movie has no plot. The viewer is not expected nor encouraged to look for a chronological — or just logical — sequence in the events, but should go with the flow with Fellini’s fantasy.”
Roma has actually a loosely autobiographical structure, but the autobiography is semi-fictionalized — goes on the scholar. It opens in Rimini, with a series of short sequences set around 1930, during the time of Fellini’s childhood. The boys gaze from behind a gate at the train bound for the city as it stops briefly at their station without letting passengers on or off. The action then jumps forward about ten years when Italy is about to enter World War II. One of the boys is now a young man — played by Mexican-American actor Peter Gonzales — arriving in Rome for the first time. He steps off the train in a white suit, and he looks like an alien landed from another planet — Clubb, before Forgacs, had wisely mentioned that this white-suited man might just as well allude at Marcello of La dolce Vita, or Moraldo in I Vitelloni, as they share the same enigmatic “outsider” profile. This young man reaches an apartment, which hosts other tenants and stands as “microcosm of the city as Fellini envisaged it: Familial, unruly, corporeal.” We do not know what happens to him after a scene in the brothel. But as we said, Roma is not about facts. It is about fantasy: the city Fellini was interested in grasping is filtered through artifice and elaborated by imagination. He did not want to shoot a realistic documentary, but rather, to project his personal vision of the city. No wonder, then, that the movie was shot in Cinecittà studio sets.
The floor was then given to Eugenia Paulicelli, Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature at CUNY, whose last book about fashion in cinema is about to come out and will be presented at Casa Italiana in January. Dr. Paulicelli drew the attention on the spectacle of Rome, which is both physically and allegorically fabricated in the movie. She noted how the costumes, though looking opulent and rich, were in fact made with poor and cheap fabrics. Danilo Donati, Fellini’s costume designer, did an amazing job, collaborating with two Roman sartorie, and reached the apotheosis in the “Festa de Noantri” scene, in the middle of the movie. A feast of food and drinks celebrated in July in the Trastevere district, the Festa in the movie, “is a tour-de-force in which elements of theatricality, ritual, intricate, dress, color and texture, all typically associated with Catholic Church, are revisited in surrealist mode” — commented Paulicelli. And that very sense of grotesque, the excessive, the coexistence of decay and beauty, and the clownesque permeating the location and the whole scene, would have been a source of inspiration for stylists like Alexander McQueen and John Galliano.
Antonio Monda, Associated Professor at NYU Tisch and Rome Film Festival Artistic Director, the last voice that Casa Italiana invited to introduce Roma, cherry-picked a couple of meaningful episodes to both tribute this peculiar film and to make Fellini more memorable to the audience, starting with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s La Ricotta (Curd Cheese). Asked for his opinion on film director Fellini, Orson Welles, playing himself in the short-film, says, “Egli danza … egli danza!”, “He dances… he dances!” — ironically enough, if we consider the friction between Pasolini and Fellini at that time… Questioned about what he thought when he heard the name “Roma”, Fellini himself claimed, “Rome is a big reddish face looking much like Sordi’s, Fabrizi’s and Magnani’s… Rome is a mother, and the best mother one could wish for, as she is indifferent.”
And his Roma is a unquestionably a classic on which the sun will never set.