Cinecitta, the huge movie studio outside Rome, is 50 years old and Fellini is interviewed by a Japanese TV crew about the films he has made there over the years as he begins production on his latest film. A young actor portrays Fellini arriving at Cinecitta the first time by trolley to interview a star. Marcello Mastroianni dressed as Mandrake the Magician floats by a window and Fellini followed by TV crew takes him to Anita Ekberg’s villa where the Trevi fountain scene from Dolce vita, La (1960) is shown on a sheet that appears and disappears as if by magic.
Originally conceived as a television film to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Cinecittà, Intervista ranks as Fellini’s most self-referential film (if not his most autobiographical), one that traces Fellini’s first self-conscious visit to the legendary studio and playfully illustrates Felliniesque moments. According to Fellini, “Cinecittà would have its own documentary, but my film would be personal, whatever I wanted to say.” Ever dreading traditional interviews, Fellini staves off that prospect by incorporating his own kind of interview in the film–a conceit where Japanese television journalists approach him at the Cinecittà for an interview and Fellini gives them a grand tour in his own style. And that means a joyful trip complete with circus parades and cinema magic!
Drifting from the present day (1987) to the 40s to combine documentary with illusion, Fellini (who appears as himself) recalls his first encounter with Cinecittà when he was a young budding journalist in quest of interviewing a famous actress. Sergio Rubini plays the young Fellini with enthusiasm and gives an excellent impression of how Fellini falls in love with moviemaking. In the biography I, Fellini, the director states:
“The actor I chose to play myself at twenty reminded me a great deal of how I looked and acted at that age. He was like me, even to the pimple I had the makeup people put on his nose. I remember going out to Cinecittà to interview an actress, and having the most conspicuous pimple on my nose…I was certain that everyone was looking at the pimple on my nose, especially the actress.”
Like a simplistic rough draft of Fellini’s 8 1/2, this “filmetto” touches on similar themes of what goes into the filmmaking process, but it doesn’t stand up well on its own. Intervista shouldn’t be your first foray into Fellini material, or else it will come off as one dizzy surrealistic trip, but those familiar with Fellini’s work will find a great deal of tongue-in-cheek humor, in both style and content.
Within minutes you realize that you’re in Fellini’s dreamy smoke-filled world, in which the Japanese journalists ask whether he’s going to start with another of his floating dream sequences. He tells them to check with his assistant director, Maurizio Mein (playing himself), explaining that Mein knows more about film than he (Fellini) does. After showing off his most useful equipment (a whistle and megaphone), Mein counters one of the most common criticisms of Fellini with comments supposedly directed at his “unnatural” role of director’s assistant: “a man who decides to stay an adolescent forever, refusing to grow up.”
Fellini includes a necessary reference to the problematic Mussolini, now universally reviled in Italy but ironically vital to the success of Cinecittà by casting a real life film producer (actually a member of the Communist Party) in a small comic role as a Fascist. He also tosses in a reference to his continual fundraising headaches, commenting that his relationship with producers consists of “total reciprocal mistrust.”
The film itself is a visual testament to the way Fellini works. He drifts into and out of frame, depending on whether the film is during the current 1987 “interview,” during the supposed production of Kafka’s Amerika (a film that Fellini wanted to make but never did), or set back in the 1940’s. While in the present, Fellini directs in his own largely improvisational style, shouting out directions as he goes:
“Like a silent-film director, I talk to my actors as they perform their parts in front of the camera. Sometimes the actor doesn’t even know what he’s supposed to say, or the script has been changed too much at the last minute for him to have learned the lines, so I have to tell him his lines while the camera is rolling.”
Emphasizing the fantasy and magic of his creation, Intervista’s best portion takes place when Fellini’s longtime stand-in, Marcello Mastroianni, arrives as Mandrake the Magician (another character that Fellini had long wanted to make a film about). Although one of cinema’s supreme moments revolves around Mastroianni and Anita Egbert dancing in the Trevi fountain, and despite the fact that the two lived in Rome, Mastroianni and Egbert had never met up since the filming of La Dolce Vita–they hadn’t really cared much for each other in real life. But here Fellini acts as master host and surprises the two actors with an improvisational meeting that is filmed as it occurs. Especially poignant is Mandrake’s magically staged flashback scene to La Dolce Vita in Egbert’s living room, and the two still-attractive actors warmly receiving each other despite advancing age and added weight.
Fellini will have only one more film left in his illustrious career, and his affection for Cinecittà is obvious. It served as his refuge and fortress for so many years, and he is clearly comfortably at home in the studio. Besides serving as Fellini’s cinematic laboratory, it also hosted American epics like Ben Hur, Quo Vadis, and Cleopatra, but after fifty years was beginning to show its age and rapidly “devolving” into a television studio. Fellini pokes fun of this transitional stage with a satirical attack on the film people with circling TV antenna bearing American Indians, a scene that displeased the sponsoring RAI television, but is trademark Fellini.
Even Fellini’s final personal scene invokes laughter after seeing Intervista. When Fellini died, the backdrop clouds and sky from the film served as background for his funeral, which should have triggered titters from anyone who’s seen this film and remembers the earthy insults the two painters hurl at each other. Fellini is anything but pretentious–he is as full of life as the fat women, the dwarves, and the unusual faces that he often picked out of the Rome subway for cinematic universe, and Intervista serves as a fitting finale, complete with that little ray of sunshine that producers are so fond of.
1. The Making Of documentary
2. Photo Gallery (with Director’s video commentary)
Language:Italian, Japanese, English
Subtitles:English (idx, sub)