Sunday, July 8, 2007

All roads lead to "Roma": Movie Review

Federico Fellini's Roma is an autobiographical tribute to Rome, Italy, featuring a narration by Fellini himself and a mixture of real-life footage and fictional set pieces. What sets this movie apart is the fact that it lacks plot. In fact it is an autobiography of a proud Roman, but hardly a story of one individual. The movie starts with Fellini’s first impressions of the city as a student. The nostalgia is clearly evident in the scene when an instructor leads a group of students on an excursion. On the banks of River Rubicon is a revision of Caesar’s “Alea iacta est” before the wards follow their instructor and cross the river enroute Rome. Probably the sequence is reminiscent of Fellini’s childhood.

Suddenly after this is an artistic impression of Rome in the 30’s. After we are introduced to the city, we witness the director's early years, arriving in Rome in 1931 during the time of Mussolini. The 18 year old moves into a tenement building and then embarks on a wild journey as he is inducted into the carnivalesque culture of Italian street life. To accentuate the effect of this breathtaking sequence are the elements of projected light and layered yet amplified sound. The road side eatery is well lit and vibrancy of the ambience is exemplified by the colourful dishes that are being served. The background score is a babel of shouting voices, of customers satisfied or otherwise, of couples fighting, of children playing Football and celebrating a goal, of mothers grumbling and toddlers crying, of waiters shouting out the menu to fresh customers, of tramps who sing and dance to entertain and earn their meal; all this sandwiched between Nino Rota's wonderful music and sharp witty sarcastic dialogues like “ Who’s that? Lellos daughter?” “ Whose do you think, the priests?” “ In Rome, we say no matter what we eat, it all turns to shit”.

The movie however is inconsistent with chronology. The charms of the past are ever present, but often the audience is teleported 40 odd years into the future where a film crew is making a movie on Rome. Throughout the movie there’s never a clear distinction between the past and the present. It is possibly to showcase certain aspects of the culture which do not change with time. The overlapping of the past and the present and the continuation of one within the realms of the other is best shown in this sequence where the film crew is on a site seeing trip inside the newly built sub way tracks. Inside the tunnels, labyrinthine catacombs lead to an ancient roman house, buried several kilometers below the present day Rome. What is unveiled is a spectacular sight. We are shown a glimpse of the past in the cave which is laden with frescoes and statues. But this scene is brief as we see that on being exposed to the atmosphere, these artifacts reveal a thick layer of dust and physical decay, which gives us an idea of a number of centuries that these pieces have endured.

Fellini also employs a style that shifts between the narrative and the documentative, fantastical fiction interwoven with farcical facts. There is this scene when the present day world bows to natures fury. The traffic is stranded because of heavy rain and there is chaos everywhere but in the backdrop,braving the storm bravely is the colloseum. The director’s dexterity is well advertised with his handling of prostitution. The brothels are portrayed the way they ought to be, as one of the ills of society, but the portrayal as such is incredibly chaste. The movie aptly ends with a motorcycle rally at night. The shots of impressive buildings at night with the motorcycles’ vrooming noises in the background is artistic, to say the least.

To sum up, Roma is a love story, where a man professes his love for the city he’s a part of. It’s a tribute to Rome by one of her most famous sons. Your first viewing will invariably result in an infatuation, both for the city and the movie. It is surreal but not very distant from reality. But to enjoy this movie, a viewer should be willing to give it some time. After all, Rome was not built in a day. Nor was Fellini’s masterpiece.

No comments: