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Marcello is in the compartment of an Italian train, facing forward when the mineral water of the woman seated across from him starts to fall toward him. He catches the bottle and makes eye contact and follows her when she leaves the compartment. For a few moments she finds him attractive too. Then suddenly she gets off the train and starts walking through a field. Marcello follows her, loses her, finds himself in a large hotel surrounded by women. A feminist conference is taking place and he tries to escape. Written by
Dale O'Connor <email@example.com>
Not a masterpiece but the trademark Fellini genius still shines through
A few weeks ago, I posted a review of 8½, presently my undisputed Number 1 favourite movie. Still on the subject of Il Maestro, I've recently rewatched City of Women. This is another Fellini movie I'd watched many years ago, in my late teens, and didn't like at all back then. Well, I liked it (with reservations) this time. La città delle donne is one of the most robust, unrepressed and rough-around-the-edges explorations of the specifically Latin nature of machismo, feminism, gender rivalry and sexual politics I have ever seen. Many people don't like La città delle donne, but like 8½ and most Fellini movies of the later period it has an extraordinary, instinctive grasp of the rhythm and symbolic power of dreams. Its irritating aspect is coupled with and impossible to separate from the grasp it has upon the potency of what our psyche hides in among its hidden, ancestral folds - in this case, Marcello Mastroianni's character's but also our very own. This movie worms its way into your own psyche in time - as with other Fellini movies, it seems to reveal scenes that are totally new and surprising, yet strangely familiar to me even though I've never seen them before. As if I'd always been familiar with them, perhaps from a previous life
Fellini seems able to tap into a universal psychic blueprint of the
soul, I think that's what it is - only a true Genius could do something like this. He gets to the emotional core of human experience, which means that even though I was never a young man who went to a brothel in 1930s Italy, as he has, there is something of the experience that I can relate to, as if it were universal. I guess the fact that things are rarely LITERALLY represented in his later movies (post-La Dolce Vita), also contributes towards this, making everything more symbolic and hence, universal.
But Città delle donne is also a shrill, over-the-top movie, grating in some ways, ridiculous, dated in others. Character-wise, Marcello is probably at his most repulsive... or perhaps I should say pathetic. But the movie, though flawed and a rehash of some other familiar Fellini themes treated more successfully elsewhere, is also delightful in parts, with a power in the use of visual symbols that I have rarely seen before, even in his own, more overall successful movies. For instance, the whole sequence in Dr Xavier Katzone's grotesque house, especially the mausoleum-like tunnel containing what is essentially the "essence" of his numerous past conquests, as well as the scenes of Marcello floating on the very originally-shaped "hot air balloon", Marcello being chased by the drugged-up teenage girl bullies in their squeaky old jalopies, etc - all scenes I won't be forgetting in a hurry.
If one really finds nothing to like in La città delle donne, it's ultimately still an important document on the gender battles that recent humanity has crossed. Perhaps Italy began these a decade or two later than, for instance, Northern European nations, but it got there eventually and in its own special, culturally individual way that can be compared to no other, since Italian men and women are not German or British or Swedish. Fellini pays tribute to that very Italian type of battle of the sexes here, stereotype-free but ever so evocatively. I have never delighted more in the never-obvious send-up of machismo as with this movie. This may be lost on non-Italian speakers but even the man's name, Katzone, is a phonetic rendering of the vulgar Italian word for... er... "big (male) genitals"! I give La città delle donne a 7½ out of 10 - I would have given it an 8 if it hadn't irritated me with its excesses in certain parts. Oh, what the hell - let's give it an 8/10!
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