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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Roma (1972)

(aka: Fellini's Roma)



Reviews and Comments

Federico Fellini's Roma is exactly what its title suggests: the city of Rome, brought to life on celluloid. As an ode to this place, which evokes its own distinctive feeling, the film is largely successful. There is no plot to speak of, just a collage of evocative imagery that is unmistakably Fellini. Reading about the film, you may learn that much of it is based on his own memories, but you could have guessed as much. It feels personal and captures what it's like to be in the various places and situations the film depicts.

Unfortunately, this doesn't always translate to a fulfilling viewing experience. Like many latter-day Fellini films, it is gaudy and abrasive. Yes, the film is evocative from start to finish, but some things are better left unevoked.

It is disconcerting, too, to see the realism of some segments intermingled with weird flights of fancy. The best sequence in the film, the discovery of an underground chamber filled with ancient artwork, is followed immediately by its worst, a bizarre fashion show where all the models are wearing papal robes. It sounds better than it plays. Did Fellini really think these sequences were part of the same organic whole? On the one hand, there is the excitement of exploration, as we uncover long lost vestiges of an ancient civilization. Then we have some tongue-in-cheek fantasy, a joke at the expense of the pomp and circumstance of the Catholic church -- a joke, by the way, which takes seconds to register but eats 15 tedious minutes of screen time. What does one have to do with the other? They're both in the same movie.

Fortunately, more of the segments work than not. The next-best segment covers a traffic jam on the highway. I cannot possibly made it sound as exciting in words as it is on the screen: it's a symphony of noise and motion and chaos and may capture better than any other film the madness of motorized transportation. Another sequence takes place at a restaurant with outdoor seating: another mundane subject brought to vibrant life by the film.

But boy, I wish those dry segments hadn't been there. They sap away what energy the rest of the film builds up. Even though I liked most of the film, the bad spots made it a real chore to sit through. Ultimately, I can recommend this only to Fellini fans.