How Strange to Be Named Federico: Scola Narrates Fellini
How Strange to Be Named Federico: Scola Narrates Fellini, biopic, rated R, in Italian with subtitles, The Screen, 3 chiles
The great Federico Fellini is fondly remembered on the 20th anniversary of his death by his friend and fellow filmmaker Ettore Scola in a whimsical hodge-podge that combines documentary, biopic, and old film clips from the master. The two men met on the staff of the Roman satirical magazine
Marc’Aurelio, where (in period-tinged black-and-white film) we see the young Fellini (Tommaso Lazotti) arrive in 1939 with a sheaf of cartoons and writings under his arm. Scola (Giacomo Lazotti) turns up at the magazine eight years later with similar ambitions, and the two become fast friends. By the time sixteen-year-old Scola ambles through the doors of
Marc’Aurelio in his knickerbockers, young Federico is already deep into his movie career with more than a dozen screenplays to his credit (including Rossellini’s Open City). Scenes of wisecracking in the magazine’s editorial offices recall the writers’ room in My Favorite Year. Scola recreates the friendship he and Fellini shared with writer Ruggero Maccari (Emiliano De Martino), as they prowled Rome by night talking about cartooning and writing and movies and love. On some of these nocturnal drives they pick up additional company — a sidewalk painter of saints and miracles (Sergio Rubini), or a prostitute (a wonderful Antonella Attili) who regales them with the story of her boyfriend, who borrowed her life savings and disappeared.
But these biopic recreations, staged in color as well as in black and white, are only a part of the crazy quilt Scola has stitched together to summon the spirit of his old friend. He opens on his scribbled cartoon drawing of Fellini from the back dressed in his trademark hat and scarf, sitting in a director’s chair, and then dissolves to Fellini himself (played by Maurizio De Santis) in the same pose facing a garish paper backdrop of a beach at sunset, and watching auditions of Felliniesque actors and circus performers.
Scola takes us through some of the maestro’s most famous work, with observations from some of their pals and colleagues. We see the search for his Casanova, for which he auditioned most of the top actors in Italy, but not Marcello Mastroianni, his go-to guy and alter-ego, and confounded the cinema world by finally settling on Donald Sutherland.
The carnival of reenactments, film clips, anecdotes, and other recollections is strung together by a wizened narrator (Vittorio Viviani), who fills us in on the master’s life, moods, foibles, and philosophy. He recalls Fellini’s wry approval of restrictions on an artist’s freedom — with something to push against, one finds inspiration.
Scola’s motley, affectionate tribute is going to delight Fellini fans and lovers of classic Italian cinema, but it may not mean much to the car-chase audience.
The auteur and the entertainer: Maurizio De Santis