There’s something magical about Rome. An ancient locale, brimming with history, character and life. The same can be said for Federico Fellini’s Roma. A tribute that forgoes a traditional narrative, in favor of a semi-autobiographical love letter to the Eternal City that is perhaps the next best thing to experiencing it in person.
Not a true documentary, Roma is more of a reminiscence, looking at the city through the memory of Fellini. Staring a semi-autobiographical telling of his arrival in 1931, an outsider growing up in the era of Mussolini, and later reflecting as an older man, visiting friends and locations. Interspersed between these memories are more obscure, symbolic pieces, that drive home Fellini’s mastery of cinema and his own internal perspective on Rome.
Scantily clad women touting their wares, a swooping shot of a frenetic traffic jam around the Coliseum, a fashion show in a Church where neon outfits illuminate Priests on roller-skates. The imagery is enticing, drawing you into the film and the mystique of the city. Roma is a film of contrasts, indulging the light and the dark of this ancient place. The simple pleasures against the more decadent pursuits, the vibrancy and life, and the weight of history laying bare the weakness in it’s infrastructure, government and people. The ravage of time is an ongoing theme in the film. One scene showcases older prostitutes and the effect of time aging their bodies; another how an archeological operation unearths some ancient frescoes, their exposure to the elements destroying them.
Fellini never shies from how time takes a toll, even in a city still brimming with life, driving home the transient nature of beauty and how it should be seized and appreciated in all forms and at all times. This delving into decay is just one aspect of Roma is not laying out some romanticized vision, also laying bare some of the issues corruption and other failures within the government. There’s a sense of tragedy in how the city has failed some people, or how their own choices or indulgence have led to their fall. It mirrors the tale of the Roman Empire that once controlled vast swathes of Europe from this beacon of civilization. The film highlighting remnants of Roman history intermingled with more contemporary features the city has acquired since the fall of the Empire. In some ways, Roma is a recycling of Fellini’s past work, drawing upon many of the themes and approaches seen in earlier films like La Strada, Cabiria, and La Dolce Vita. But these are wrapped up in a personal, and at times experimental structure. It’s a rather eccentric endeavor, but one that perfectly encapsulates the facets of the Eternal City.
According to the included booklet, which also includes an essay on the film, this release features a 2K digital transfer that was created from a 2010 restoration. As always with Criterion, the visual quality is top notch. A beautifully clean presentation, no artifacts, with good detail, contrast and color. Special features include:
- Deleted scenes – A number of scenes removed from the film for the International release. Each scene has a text introduction for additional details. A touch that is always appreciated.
- Audio commentary featuring Frank Burke, author of Fellini’s Films – New for this release, Burke delves into aspects of the film such as themes, symbolism, production design and other traits particular to Fellaini. Informative and entertaining.
- New interview with filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino – Director Sorrentino (Youth) takes about Fellaini’s approach, recurring themes in his films and the influence the filmmaker had on his own career.
- New interview with poet and Fellini friend Valerio Magrelli – The author recants his first meeting with Fellini during the filming of Casanova and how they became close. He also offers up his opinions on why Fellaini made such an impact and of the image of Rome that Roma crafts. A less academic and more personal extra.
- Images from the Felliniana archive of collector Don Young – An archive of promotional materials for Roma backed up by some behind the scenes images from the MGM archives. A nice retrospective on how the film was marketed back in the 70s.
Roma forgoes a traditional narrative to give a voyage through not only the magnificent city of Rome, but also the imagination and memory of Fellini, a director who stacks each frame with layers of commentary and beauty. A visual artist whose voice and his vision is showcased in a truly resplendent presentation from Criterion reiterating the beauty of Fellini’s work.
Roma is available from Criterion on December 13th.