THE WHITE SHEIK
Review by Michael Jacobson
Brunella Bovo, Leopoldo Trieste, Alberto Sordi, Giulietta Masina
Director: Federico Fellini
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: Remembrances, Printed Essay & Biography Excerpt
Length: 86 Minutes
Release Date: April 29, 2003
real life is in our dreams…but sometimes dreams are a fatal abyss.”
would film criticism be without Federico Fellini? For myself, I find nothing quite as lively as a discussion of
the influential Italian master, for it seems few critics can agree on exactly
where to place his particular brand of greatness in the spectrum, or even which
of his films reflect that greatness and which ones detract from it.
I say, as I usually do, that I generally prefer the early Fellini works (8 ˝
and prior), I’m bound to ruffle the feathers of some critics like Roger
Ebert, who are adamant that Fellini’s true artistic significance actually
began with 8 ˝ and didn’t end with it, and that films like Juliet
of the Spirits, La Dolce Vita, Satyricon and others are singular works of
vision and courage. And my response
would probably be to suggest that those later had foundations so weak that they
collapsed under the weight of the master’s excesses. And so on.
But it still gives me great pleasure to take a look back at one of
Fellini’s early offerings, especially when it’s The Criterion Collection
that affords me that look. With the release of The White Sheik, we get to go way
back indeed. This was Fellini’s
first film as solo director, and a rather unique entry into his filmography.
it’s an amusing, energetic little comedy filled with little touches of
pleasure, but probably ultimately signifying nothing. It follows a newly wed couple through the first two critical
days of their honeymoon, but doesn’t really conclude with a complete
impression at the end that things will be better for them than we initially
thought. Perhaps a hint, not much
couple is Ivan Cavalli (Trieste) and his new bride, Wanda (Bovo).
They have come to Rome to honeymoon, but the eternal city doesn’t seem
to inspire a great deal of romance in Ivan.
He has their time planned out on a pristinely composed schedule, which
includes family gatherings, meeting the Pope, and (thankfully) even a little
time for consummation.
Wanda is harboring a tidy little secret. Having
been a fan of the photo comic series “The White Sheik”, especially the man
in the title role Fernando (Sordi), she has accepted an open invitation to visit
him if ever in Rome. And when in
while Wanda sneaks off to indulge in a little fantasy, the bewildered Ivan is
left beside himself, trying to A) uncover the mystery of what happened to his
wife and B) preventing his eager family from finding out she’s gone!
film skillfully juxtaposes both stories for a rough but elegant comic effect.
Fernando is, amusingly enough, no different behind the scenes than in
front of the camera. Always
“on” and with a smile you can imagine him practicing for hours in front of
the mirror, he manages to come on to Wanda in hysterically funny ways.
Essentially, he shovels the fertilizer with great gusto.
saddened Ivan, meanwhile, ends up alone in the streets of Rome, comforted by a
pair of prostitutes including the plucky Cabiria (Masina).
But the nice surprise is that while both Ivan and Wanda are confronted
with a perfect opportunity to be unfaithful to a marriage we don’t see much
stock in, they don’t.
the couple comes back together, Wanda meets the family, and the two walk arm in
arm to meet His Holiness, where they also essentially confess their fidelity to
one another. Is this a fresh new
beginning for them? Are they
realizing that they do in fact love one another?
It’s nice to think so.
crafts his comedy with a style derivative of the silent era, or perhaps the
Laurel and Hardy films of the early 30s. Dialogue
is important, but the master communicates much with body placement, facial
expression, and camera moves as well. Some
of what he injects is deliberately lowbrow, but appropriate, because the story
he’s telling isn’t exactly highbrow. The characters themselves aren't
particularly deep, but filled with little touches we can instinctively respond
the end, The White Sheik serves as both an enjoyable comic diversion and
a glimpse at an artist in development. This
wasn’t yet the Fellini capable of constructing La Strada or Nights
of Cabiria, but could be considered an early promise that the master would
later deliver on.
TRIVIA: Giulietta Masina,
Fellini’s wife, would of course later reprise her role as Cabiria as a
starring role in Nights of Cabiria. Film
connoisseurs who have that Criterion DVD offering have already enjoyed a look at
her performance in The White Sheik among the extras!
a film over fifty years old, Criterion manages yet again to deliver a quality
product. The black and white
photography renders quite nicely and mostly cleanly, without distortions or
undue grain. A few darker stretches
show some of the print’s wear, but only in small doses and considering the
age, well within acceptable limits.
all Fellini films, this one has post-dubbed dialogue, so you may have to get
used to the fact that spoken words, though clear enough, don’t always sound
natural in the setting. Of course,
being an Italian film, the dialogue doesn’t matter as much.
Nino Rota’s score is lively and fun, and a nice addition to the mix,
but as with most older mono offerings, the soundtrack is neither above nor below
disc includes a half hour featurette “Remembrances”, featuring new
interviews with actors Brunella Bobo, Leopoldo Trieste, and Fellini biographer
Moraldo Rossi. All talk about the
master, and how this film in particular has gone through changes in perception
over the years. The booklet
includes both a new essay (with Orson Welles’ thoughts, no less) and an
excerpt from the biography I Fellini by Charlotte Chandler.
A small touch of animation in the main menu screen is also quite