Saturday, March 28, 2015

How Strange to be Named Federico: Scola narrates Fellini (orig. Che Strano Chiamarsi Federico: Scola Racconta Fellini) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R) (7.5/10) (7/10)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing listing listing* (A.  Cappuccio) review* (A.M. Abate) review* (F. D'Ettore) review* (V. Dumez) review*

The Hollywood Reporter (D. Young) review
Variety (J. Weissberg) review

How Strange to be Named Federico: Scola Narrates Fellini (orig. Che Strano Chiamarsi Federico: Scola Racconta Fellini) [2013] [IMDb] [FilmItal] []* (directed and cowritten by Ettore Scola [en.wikip] [it.wikip]* [IMDb] [FilmItal] []* along with Paula Scola [IMDb] [FilmItal] and Silvia Scola [IMDb] [FilmItal]) is a BRILLIANT "Fellini-like" biopic about the legendary Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini [en.wikip] [it.wikip]* ;-) that played AND WILL CLOSE the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.

It is a testament to the strength of this year's festival that three of Italy's films that played at the festival were (1) Black Souls (orig. Anime Nere) [2014] [IMDb] [FilmItal] []* (dir. Francesco Munzi [IMDb] [FilmItal] []*) a drama about the Calabrese mafia (Calabria (being "the toe" of the "boot of Italy"), (2) The Dinner (orig. I Nostri Ragazzi) [2014] [IMDb] [FilmItal] []* (dir. Ivano De Matteo [IMDb] [FilmItal] []*) a family drama that asks the question, in a society as family oriented as Italy's what do you do if your child commits a crime or otherwise "has issues"?  Should your first loyalty be to your kid or to the larger society?, and then (3) this fantastic (and promising to be stylistically brilliant) homage to Fellini.  Everyone of these films promised to be 3-4 Star quality.  Yet one _really_ "can't see everything," ;-) one has to choose ;-).  And so I chose this film about Fellini ;-).

Note to readers: One CAN buy this film for a affordable / basically regular DVD price ($10-15) albeit presently in European PAL format via  Then one can download a simple free-ware program called PassKey-Lite to override one's computer's restrictions on what Region DVD-format discs one play on one's computer.  And multi-regional DVD players are also quite affordable these days (costing around $35 or only about $10 more than a uni-regional one) and then one need not worry ever again about playing non-North American DVDs.  Again, one could find a cheap multi-regional DVD player via

Anyway, if one is at all a film lover, this is a film to see / search out / own.  

So what then is Federico Fellini [en.wikip] [it.wikip]* "story" according to his good friend, and fellow film-maker Ettore Scola [en.wikip] [it.wikip]*?

Well interestingly enough, Ettore Scola [en.wikip] [it.wikip]* notes that Fellini [en.wikip] [it.wikip]* began his career in 1939 AS A CARTOONIST at the Italian satirical magazine Marc'Aurelio [it.wikip]* during the Mussolini era.  (Scola came to the same magazine ten years later while Fellini still worked there and they became lifelong friends)

Yes during the Mussolini era, the magazine operated then under obvious parameters of censorship (NO, NO, NO jokes about Mussolini ... and some of the members of the editorial board were clearly portrayed as rather fanatical, if then rather RIDICULOUS Fascist "believers").  The film further portrays the magazine AFTER THE WAR as more-or-less obviously supporting the Italy's post-War Center-Right Christian Democratic Party over the Communists (even if this again limited the potential scope of the magazine's humor).  

YET, "politics aside," the Marc'Aurelio [it.wikip]* operated with a very simple (though still "kinda brutal") editorial quality control policy: "fa ridere" / "non fa fidere" (funny / not funny) which ended-up producing an _inordinate number_ of comedy (and then mostly screenwriting / directorial) talents in the post-WW II era, including Fellini (played in the film as a young man by Tommaso Lazotti [IMDb] [FilmItal] []*) and Scola (played in the film as a young man by Giulio Forges Davanzati [IMDb] [FilmItal] []*).  Seriously, the Marc'Aurelio [it.wikip]* could be called the SNL-like "incubator" for Italian writers / screenwriters / directors that would breakout on their own in the 1950s-60s.

I found Fellini's origins AS A CARTOONIST FASCINATING because this IMMEDIATELY (and FOREVER) HELPS EXPLAIN TO ME _WHY_ THE CHARACTERS IN FELLINI'S FILMS WERE SO OFTEN SO, ERR... EVOCATIVE, EXPRESSIVE, MEMORABLE ... or just plain "grotesquely strange" ;-)  He was DRAWING EXAGGERATED CHARACTERS LIKE THIS 20-30-40 years before putting them in his films ;-).

Further, it makes total sense to me that before / as he was making the transition to film, Fellini started to write jokes / sketches for Italy's version of Vaudeville (again during / immediately after the WW II era).

Then Scola recounts (narrated as an old man by Vittorio Viviani [IMDb] []*) Fellini's love affair with the automobile, NOT as a STATUS SYMBOL but _as a means to encounter people_, ODD PEOPLE, that one would probably otherwise never meet.  From the time that he first purchased a car, back in the late 40s and 50s, he'd love to cruise around at night -- often with Scola onboard as well -- to seek out interesting people, often quite literally "at the edges (margins) of the city."

Two such encounters recorded in the film, one with a clearly "past her prime" older prostitute (played wonderfully by Antonella Attili [IMDb]) evoking Fellini's celebrated Oscar-Winning film Nights of Cabiria [1957] [IMDb] (where Fellini's then wife, Guilietta Masina [en.wikip] [it.wikip]*[IMDb] with probably one of the most expressive/evocative faces in the history of film, played _exactly_ this kind of "not exactly A-team" but certainly talkative / interesting small-time prostitute) and another involving a street artist (played by Sergio Rubini [IMDb] []*) who'd draw strikingly beautiful chalk paintings of saints on Rome's sidewalks (and then complain that "rain would come and wash them all away," Go figure ... ;-)  Having lived in Rome for three years (while in the seminary), I've met and talked to street artists JUST LIKE THIS ;-) and I've also wondered about "the futily of their work" ;-).

Finally Scola recounts Fellini's love for his "Studio 5" in the famed legendary Cinecittà movie studio complex at the edge of Rome.  Studio 5 became known, in hushed reverential tones, as "La Casa di Fellini" (Fellini's House).  Much of the second half of the movie recounts / shows us that some of the most famous scenes in Fellini's movies, INCLUDING the FONTANA DI TREVI SCENE [YouTube] in La Dolce Vita [1960], AS UTTERLY "REAL" AS IT/THEY MAY HAVE SEEMED, WERE OFTEN ENTIRELY CREATED IN STUDIO FIVE.  Honestly, my jaw dropped when I realized that EVEN that most famous scene WAS ACTUALLY FILMED THERE (with a MOCK-UP of that MOST FAMOUS / ELABORATE FOUNTAIN RE-CREATED THERE to do it).  Wow!

All in all, I just found this to be a lovely / fascinating and ENTIRELY, ENTIRELY, ENTIRELY APPROPRIATE :-) "FELLINI-LIKE" BIO-PIC about Fellini, reminding us all "where he came from." 

Honestly, I was in awe.  What a great tribute to such a fascinating and so often creative / "off-the-wall" man!

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.

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