Monday, September 09, 2013

Viewing Notes: CITY OF WOMEN (Fellini, 1980)

City of Women, 1980, d. Federico Fellini
scr. Fellini, Bernardino Zapponi, Brunello Rondi
with Marcello Mastroianni, Donatella Damiani

Fellini does that thing where he dresses up Marcello Mastroianni like himself and then sends him to peep in on The Girls' Room circa 1980. It starts with a dream and a train tunnel, ends with a dream and a train tunnel, and in between visits sundry alien landscape sets swarming with women of all kinds. The problem, if it's not obvious, is that the women are Kinds. If these obscure objects of desire are, as usual, something between Jungian archetype and cartoon sketches of types, that is par for course. So again, Fellini's dream-self avatar pulls out his mental Rolodex of Women I Have Known, thumbing through the cardboard girl-shapes like a flip-book, trying to get them to all exist in simultaneous space-time. Where that happens is dreams and reverie.

And in dreams, don't you know, he loves them all, all the time, always did. And I dare say, this wistful affection is the reason this isn't disgusting but sort of tragicomically sweet. The second reason is that this Fellini-stand-in, "Snàporaz," specifically, is befuddled, out of touch, and impossibly easily distracted — the picture is gently teasing him throughout, and even in fantasy the Women do not take him seriously. Finally, the reason this is beautiful and true is that he actually knows all of this: not a problem with the film but the problem with which the film is concerned. In 8 1/2 terms, City of Women is the Guido's Harem sequence fully kitted out into a Satyricon of its own, as we might say Amarcord expands the Saraghina reminisces into a whole town.

Key episodes: Led down the rabbit hole by a casual sexual encounter in the train's WC, Snàporaz somehow ends up at a freeform feminist symposium in a packed-to-the-gills hotel/commune. This stuff is great because Fellini demonstrates an understanding of second-wave feminism, or at least presents its tenets more or less accurately. Snàporaz wanders through these lectures and pep talks with nonplussed fascination, and even claims he "understands" what is being discussed, even when he ends up in a room of women chanting "Castration! Castration!" Point being that neither Snàporaz nor Fellini takes The Feminist Hotel to be a house of villains, exactly; it is, kind of shockingly, more about how none of these people are remotely concerned with making a middle-aged womanizer feel comfortable in their midst because that's exactly what they're not here to do. This is all a useful illustration of the dangers of confusing the Fellini Alter-ego for an idealized self image, or even Fellini Proper, if you catch my drift.

The stylish showstopper eye-popper sequence sees Snàporaz hitching a ride with a carload of stoned, disaffected fashion plate teens who drive aimlessly through the abstract rural nightscape like an Argento taxi. Marcello-Guido-Snàporaz perches atop like those crammed-with-papparazzi La Dolce Vita joyrides to the dawn but now in Toby Dammit's gold Ferrari of Doom, multiplied into a squadron of punk clown cars and barreling toward techno hell.

Finally, the psyche slides down an infinitely regressing plush chute, breezing past ancient formative crushes, erotic infatuations and masturbation fantasies and lands in a cage to be judged by the court of the City of Women. And he finds out, Snàporaz, and Fellini, and maybe you too, exactly where that City is located, where that tunnel leads. Tunnels go inside.

And finally, here is yet another example where Ebert's (Hot Air) Balloon Rule fails.

Viewed on: 9/9/13 — Blu-ray (Masters of Cinema; Region B)

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