Review by Michael Jacobson
Christopher, Pia de Doses, Federico Fellini, Fiona Florence, Renato Giovanneli
Director: Federico Fellini
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 119 Minutes
Release Date: December 13, 2016
Roma is an imaginative, dreamy love letter by
the master Italian filmmaker to his home city. Its
also a film with no structure, no foundation, no framework, and no memorable characters.
Watching the picture, I felt myself elevated into an almost dreamlike
state of consciousness. My mind received and
processed the images on the screen in heightened ways, and I often found myself scribbling
notes without any awareness of what I was writing. The
film is packed with good scenes and ideas; yet Im reminded of the quote from
Vincente Minnellis The Bad and the
Beautiful, comparing a movie with strong ideas and no structure to a pearl necklace
without a string. It falls apart.
Fellinis stream of consciousness approach to this film is both
fascinating and infuriating, and in retrospect, I wished I had given up much earlier on my
search for that illusive string holding the necklace together and recognized that all I
was looking at was a pile of pearls. Fellinis
romantic ideals come across in a film of reflections and impressions, but no absolutions.
Over the course of Roma, we see Fellini as a child, whose
class is looking at slides of the great cultural and artistic accomplishments in the
history of Rome. This is interrupted by a
misplaced slide of a womans behind, which makes the class erupt in delight while the
teachers scream, Dont look! Its
the devil! We also see Fellini as a
young man, experiencing the pleasures and terrors of Roman life in World War II, where sex
was plentiful and for sale, but the sounds of falling bombs accented every experience.
The modern Fellini, who narrates the picture and appears as himself,
yearns for the olden days of his city, when the presence of the Catholic Church and the
film industry meant something more to the citizens. He
reflects on the modern state of religion in a farcical fashion show scene, where models in
the latest Catholic garbs stroll out on runways for the contemplation of a body of
There are scenes where Fellini skillfully mixes the bawdy with the
innocent. His enhanced childhood
memories are among them, such as the one bad girl reputed to sleep with everyone: his memory is of a long string of men in line,
waiting their turn with her in the back of a car. She
emerges from this car in a scenario of pure fantasy:
clad in red, and dancing upon the roof of the auto in front of a luminous street
light (the image on the cover).
Other scenes, though technically well done, lose quite a bit in the
translation. There are moments of pure audio
cacophony that quite simply cant make a smooth transition into subtitles. A boisterous theatre scene where the audience is
heckling the beleaguered performers, or a scene in a cafeteria where the camera moves
effortlessly in and out and among the crowds, or the brothel scene, where the women parade
their wares like Party Lite girls. I felt I
missed a great deal in each of these portions of the movie, but until I learn to speak
Italian, thats the reality of it.
Other parts, like the introduction to modern Rome, are intriguing and
frustrating. We see Fellini and his film crew
setting up an elaborate crane and traveling shot on the streets of the city. Its a beautiful day; his water cannons will
provide the rain. Next were looking at
lights and objects through rain-blurred windshields.
Reality is distorted, in more ways than one, and shots of the crew in action
continually keep us from buying completely into the illusion. The ideas are rich, but again, the purpose is
Roma is a film rich in imagination, and not an unpleasant
experience by any means. Fellinis love
of life, his city, and its people create the energy that vibrates in every shot. But the film lacks anything to make it coherent: storyline, characters, a structure of cohesive
time and space. Fellini is a director reputed
for his indulgences; but here is a case where a little more self restraint and attention
to form might have served him better.
This is a very beautiful, very colorful high definition
transfer. There are telltale signs of
aging in the form of marks, spots and other debris, but theyre mostly noticeable
only at the beginning and during a few key dark sequences.
All in all, though, there isnt that much, and whats there isnt
distracting. Coloring is very good
throughout, capturing Fellinis fantastic impressions of his home city beautifully,
with good detail and crisp, sharp images. Fans
of the great Italian maestro should be very pleased.
The uncompressed mono track, as most are, is perfectly adequate and
unspectacular. Its free from noise and
distortions, and dialogue and music are very clear, though dynamic range is expectedly
Features * **
There is an audio commentary from an author of a book on Fellini, some deleted scenes, new interviews with filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino and friend Valerio Magrelli, archive images, and a trailer
Roma is a perfect reflection of all the beauty and problems unrestrained imagination can create in a motion picture. Filled with dreamy, lovely and unforgettable imagery, its nevertheless a film that buckles somewhat under the weight of its excesses and lack of skeletal structure. Fans should (and will) embrace this good looking Blu-ray from Criterion; casual onlookers might prefer something a little more grounded.