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Italian film director Federico Fellini’s seminal work, Roma, 1972, is an extravagant, impressionistic portrait of Rome, described through an autobiographical reconstruction of Fellini’s arrival into the Italian city during the Mussolini years. Entering into 1930s Rome, the character of Fellini, played by Peter Gonzales, arrives to an eccentric boarding house. Pleasures of gastronomy and the flesh, the sacred and profane, saturate a portrait of the physical and psychic city as the film proceeds into the present, finding Roman ruins, a new ring-road and brothels, among other new and at times bizarre experiences.

Featuring cameos from Gore Vidal and Anna Magnani, and music by Nino Rota, Fellini’s open, episodic collage of fantastical tableaux conjures a truly idiosyncratic piece of exuberant cinema, folding Rome and Fellini’s biographies into a single, surreal imaginarium. On 20 January 2020, 100 years to the day after Fellini’s birth, will be the UK premiere of Cineteca di Bologna’s new restoration of the Italian director’s lavish love letter to the Eternal City. This screening, organised by the Architecture Foundation at London’s Barbican, is introduced by Alessandro Carrera, director of Italian Studies at the University of Houston, Texas, and author of Fellini’s Eternal Rome. Carrera’s study explores the co-existence and conflict of paganism and Christianity in the works of the illustrious director.

Fellini’s Roma is a virtually plotless autobiographical tribute to Rome, featuring narration by Fellini himself and a mixture of real-life footage and fictional set pieces. The young Fellini moves in to a tenement building and explores the wild characters living in the neighbourhood. David Forgacs, Professor of Contemporary Italian Studies at New York University, describes an 18 year old Fellini, as “He steps off the train in a crisp white suit, with longish hair and dark glasses, like an alien from another time and place, and takes a tram to a family apartment that he will share with other tenants. It is here that Fellini’s personal vision and memories of Rome begin to replace the mediated images of the earlier sequences. The apartment is a microcosm of the city as he envisaged it: familial, unruly, corporeal. All ages and social types live under the same roof like a chaotic extended clan.”

The events that follow switch between the past and contemporary times, including a story line that involves a 1970s film crew making a movie about Rome. He also incorporates segments of Roman history and problems in the government, including an improvised speech from Gore Vidal. Throughout this journey there are visits to an outdoor restaurant, a movie theatre, a music hall, and a brothel. In one famously surreal segment, groups of clergymen gather together for a Catholic fashion show spectacle. Carrera points out, “Life-affirming Franciscanism and repressive Counter-Reformation dogmatism live side by side in Fellini’s films, although he clearly tends toward the former and resents the latter.”

Architecture on Film: Fellini’s Roma + Introduction by Alessandro Carrera | 20 January 2020 at Barbican Cinema

Feature image: Federico Fellini behind the scenes of Fellini’s Roma in 1972 (via Pinterest)

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