In the opening text prior to the start of Roma, we get a detailed explanation of how the original version of Federico Fellini’s movie had scenes that were shortened for international release by him, producer Turi Vasile, and screenwriter Bernardo Zapponi. Some footage never made it past the production documentation phase, and, therefore, has never been seen by the general public. I kind of wish there was a way for us to see everything that Fellini had captured, because Roma is a gorgeous look at Rome and the people living in it during a certain period of time.
Fellini doesn’t give the viewer a bunch of characters to follow throughout this tour of the eternal city, nor does he craft a fully-fledged plot to go along with his film. Roma is a series of different scenes filled with colorful, oddball characters that Fellini connects to give the viewer a glimpse at Rome and all of its beauty and eccentricities. Ultimately, the movie comes across as somewhat disjointed, narratively speaking, but when you step back and examine all of the elements of it, Roma is something quite special, and has a lot to say about how Fellini saw Rome in the past and what the city was at the time it was being filmed. In essence, the city of Rome is the movie’s main character. One could argue that it’s the only character that is truly present. The humans that occupy the movie are what develop it and give the viewer an understanding of it.
Roma does have some kind of narrative story arc that revolves around a young boy named Fellini (Peter Gonzalez), who moves from the small town of Rimini to the big city of Rome, and is exposed to the lifestyle and culture. He checks out a vaudeville show, goes out for dinner and drinks with his neighbors, and also checks out the whorehouses.
The narrative structure, as incoherent as it may be, isn’t the reason we would watch a movie like this. After a while, it becomes something to which we’re not too attached, and yet, that’s OK. It’s to show the city of Rome from an outsider-looking-in perspective. Fellini crafts rich, luscious imagery that is inviting and certainly something from which we can’t look away. We get lost in the dazzling scenery that is Rome, and once it ends, it’s like a sudden shock - a wake-up call we weren’t expecting.
The character Gonzalez plays is lost, uncertain of what is, to him, a newfound city, but loving every minute of it. We, as the viewer, feel the same way. Fellini doesn’t take time to build up to getting into Rome; we’re immediately dropped into it. A lot of these characters that fill the frame are cartoonish and raucous, and it may take some time to fully settle in to being around them as they tell performers to play a particular song they want to hear, boo someone off a stage, or do their best to make it over the crowd to see a nude girl. Yes, there is a scene that is almost Looney Tunes in its approach, in which a soldier literally leaps over a crowd of his cohorts to see the naked prostitutes.
Later on, an older version of the main character revisits Rome, and says he is filming a documentary about Rome, and wants to showcase how much he loves the city. We’re never really given a clear understanding if the person is talking about the movie we’re watching right now or if we’re watching a movie being made within a movie. Your interpretation may vary, but it’s intriguing to see Fellini blend two genres together in such a unique, madhouse kind of way.
Although Fellini gives us plenty of reasons as to what makes Rome so great, there’s also quite a bit of commentary into how Rome has changed, and, for some, not for the better. We’ve gone from the determination of those from the 1940s during a time of war to the more free spirit approach of the 1960s and, maybe, early 1970s. It should be noted that this film was released in 1972.
Rome is a city that still attracts a wide variety of people, whether they are actors, authors, or other key figures, but the people that have been living there for decades reminisce about the good old days of the city. They still love it for what it is, but it’s not the same. It’s not exactly this warm, happy approach one would expect when visiting a place like Rome, or when watching a movie about Rome. But it shows how Fellini, and perhaps others, honestly felt about the city during this time.
Those looking for another Criterion title to add to their collection should seek this one out. It’s a beautiful, 2K restoration of the original 35mm negative print, and it shows that a lot of time was spent to make the image quality look as superb as the images Fellini captured.
There are two interviews in the special features section. One of them is from The Great Beauty director Paolo Sorrentino, in which he discusses his personal feelings toward Roma and where he ranks it in Fellini’s work. The other is from poet Valero Magrelli, who personally knew Fellini, but could never really consider him to be a friend, just an acquaintance. His story of how he first met Fellini and worked on one of his pictures as the “assistant to the assistant to the assistant” is great to hear.
What was the most interesting of the special features is seeing the deleted scenes and where they lined up in the film. The moments that were cut were green and had pencil marks along the image, so you could tell they were never fully processed. But you can see the moment before the cuts were made and then what the cut scenes were. It’s 18 minutes worth of footage that wasn’t used for the movie, but it’s still fascinating to watch.
A booklet inside the Blu-ray cover folds out into a poster on one side and an essay on the other. The essay is from David Forgacs, who gives an analysis on Roma and what Fellini was trying to say. Personally, I would have preferred this to have been split into two separate things. Make the poster on one sheet, and the essay on another or in a book. It feels awkward to hold this giant mini-poster as you’re trying to read an excellent essay.
The disc also comes with a collection of images from the Felliniana archive from collector Don Young, which are cool to see and get a behind-the-scenes look at the movie, and a commentary from Frank Burke, the author of Fellini’s Films. Burke’s commentary is an in-depth exploration of Roma and its themes and motifs, and serves as a great companion piece for someone looking to learn more about this film in an analytical way, and its history upon its release and how others compared it to other Fellini films. One part mentions how this wasn't among Fellini's most well-received work, but people like Roger Ebert staunchly defended it when it opened in theaters.
Some may find Roma maddening due to its structure, but I found it to be a lovely and hypnotic experience. This Criterion edition is a great treatment of the film, which is one I can find myself watching again and again to not only experience the imagery, but to further analyze the movie as a whole.