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The first two days of a marriage. Ivan, a punctilious clerk brings his virginal bride to Rome for a honeymoon, an audience with the Pope, and to present her to his uncle. They arrive early in the morning, and he has time for a nap. She sneaks off to find the offices of a romance magazine she reads religiously: she wants to meet "The White Sheik," the hero of a soap-opera photo strip. Star-struck, she ends up 20 miles from Rome, alone on a boat with the sheik. A distraught Ivan covers for her, claiming she's ill. That night, each wanders the streets, she tempted by suicide, he by prostitutes. The next day, at 11, is their papal audience. Can things still right themselves? Written by
...that Federico Fellini, one of the most gifted and visually wild Italian directors of the 20th century, blossomed out until with his masterpiece 8 1/2 (which, by the time he got to, as Martin Scorsese once said, "he was on Mars"). With his first solo effort, parting ways with Rossellini but not entirely from neo-realism, he went back to one of his passions- comic-book writing. Los Sciecco Bianco (The White Shiek) is likely one of Fellini's funniest works, and it shows him gearing up his visual sense of space, and with his trademark characters (set, which is his usual, in Rome).
The story is quite simple and, for the novice to Fellini's daring feats of the 60's, entertaining and accessible. A man with a level of pride in his family's connections in bureaucracy and religion in Rome (played by Leopoldo Triste, with perfect usage of wide eyes), is married to a young woman, Wanda (Brunella Bovo). She loves him, but finds him perhaps a little un-easy to be around for a day. So, she sneaks off for what she thinks is just a momentary call for fandom- she's a big fan of 'the white sheik', the star of the kinds of comics being printed in Italy (mostly for women, as said on the DVD, they were still photos as opposed to drawings, with pulp/love stories). But, in a Fellinian twist, Wanda gets whisked away by the shooting crew of the series, and Ivan (Triste) is stuck in one of those text-book comic situations, where everything is "under control". The results are rather funny, if also intriguing.
The little characters are also what makes the film fun, aside from our lead couple, and with this film we get the white sheik himself, Fernando Rivoli (Alberto Sordi, who finds that line between a stealthily romantic type and hopelessly dim), and the crew, filled with their little comments. Plus, there is a late-night visit to Ivan in a despairing state, from Cabiria (later to appear in one of Masina/Fellini's best combinations, Nights of Cabiria), involving a flame shooter. And as the film unravels, it becomes key to the fun- we know things will turn out right somehow, but how is what makes the film work (unlike Fellini, some might think, as many of his other films are the opposite, with flights of fantastical comedy in hopeless tragedies). It's not a great film, there are some inconsistencies, and at a couple of points the pace loses its strength. But if this was a place to evolve from for the director, it's not a bad place in the slightest. That there are wonderful turns for Trieste, Bovo, Marchio, and legendary composer Nina Rota, is another reason to watch it.
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