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

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPOS - — Jonathan Richards

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

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