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Conventional knowledge has it that the only film of Fellini's worth a damn
after 8½ is Amarcord. Earlier this afternoon, I would have gladly agreed,
but tonight I have discovered that this is a fallacy. I present to you And
the Ship Sails On..., a film that is not only to be ranked alongside
Fellini's permanent, almost unquestionable masterpieces, La Strada, Nights
of Cabiria, La Dolce Vita, 8½, and Amarcord, but one to be ranked among the
best works in cinema. Perhaps this is the most underrated film ever made by
a true master, the man who literally was the first filmmaker to be called
"auteur" by Andre Bazin in an article about Nights of Cabiria.
I would describe this film as a close relative of Amarcord's. The style of characterization is identical - instead of of a close character study, the sort of characterization most film lovers tend to like, the characters in these two films are drawn more broadly, with more attention paid to unique physical features and behavioral quirks. This is all in an attempt to have the audience identify the characters - or, more precisely, caricatures (before he made movies, Fellini worked as a caricaturist on the streets of Rome) - in a stereotypical way. Take Titta's parents from Amarcord - they're whom we might draw if we were asked to draw bickering parents. Take the Duke from And the Ship Sails On - could you imagine a teenage, Teutonic duke any other way than Fellini presents him? You could also take it the other way - when you see this odd fellow on screen, do you have any doubt that he is Germanic royalty? The visual style is also similar to Amarcord's - that one was painted with cartoonish colors. And the Ship Sails On is also very colorful, but the palette is more specified here - a beautiful canvas of blue-grays and whites.
The narrative styles of the two films differ quite a bit, but still are similar. Amarcord taps the vein of nostalgia - perhaps the most untapped of human emotions - for its affect. And the Ship Sails On seems to be going for absurdist, surreal satire. It's a genre that is more or less dead in the world of cinema, which is why, I assume, this film was such a bomb in 1984 and is relatively unknown today. Why satirize the aristocracy of the WWI era anyhow? That's a good question, but one that is not difficult to answer. I don't believe that Fellini meant the film as any kind of biting satire. It's all done in fun, although the juxtaposition of the rich with the Serbian refugees, whom the ship's crew finds afloat on sinking rafts one night, does ring with a certain painful and ironic truth about how the rich see the poor. Still, even though we might scoff at the way the aristocrats try to trace the roots of Serbian dances back to ancient times, the scene immediately following it, where those aristocrats go down on the deck to dance with the Serbians, is very entertaining and beautiful. The music in that scene, in fact, the music throughout the entire film, made me want to clap and dance. The actors move rhythmically as they progress through the film. I also have to add that Fellini never made a funnier film, at least of the ones I've seen, which are a majority of them (Toby Dammit of the omnibus film Spirits of the Dead comes very close).
Most of this film's greatness lies in individual scenes, and thus, as you might guess, the sum is not exactly equal to the parts - at least as far as I saw, there's no real point - the substance is thin. But when style is this beautiful, I say screw substance. Each individual scene ranks among the best ever put to film - the wine glass concert, the scene where sunlight brightens one half of the ship and moonlight the other, the boiler room scene where the great opera singers compete vocally in order to impress the sailors below, the interview with the duke, and the opera singer's funeral. Each scene is so exquisitely created by Fellini and every other artist involved that it is entirely forgiveable if the audience remembers those individual images rather than an overall effect. For me, the combination did have an overall effect: I was so awestruck that I was weeping, though there was nothing onscreen to weep at. 10/10.
A glittering gem of a movie that I feel deserves more attention in Fellini's canon. The motif of the ending of an era and the films positioning near the end of his career make for a particularly poignant expression. I think it is a tendency for most artist's to be seen to be at the height of their power somewhere in mid-life. Although Fellini's most challenging and provocative work preceded And the ship sails on, I can't say any are more poetic than it. It's rich sentimentality beautifully positions individual stories within the tapesty of larger world events oblivious to these characters. This film is also worth seeing if only for the stunning visuals, and the glorious music!
Fellini's worst film? What nonsense! If you want that "Satyricon" is waiting
for you. Antonioni has called this one of his favorite Fellini films and
after seeing it myself, I knew he didn't make that judgment rashly. "And the
Ship Sails On" is a thoroughly 'modern' film and one of the maestro's
best--certainly as good as "Amarcord," and probably better. It is less
crudely silly and linear than "Amarcord" and harder to understand for anyone
not intersted in progressive cinema, much more ambiguous, flexible and prone
to take risks. To even breath the climate of opinion which deigns to compare
this ambitious masterwork to an overblown piece of commercial fluff like
'Titanic' is nauseating. The fact that both films happen to take place on
the deck of a ship is their only similarity and the 'message' of Titanic has
absolutely nothing do with what Fellini was trying to say. Fellini doesn't
make 'allegories' of society; at his best, he makes 'allegories' of
'allegories.' His sense of humor goes deep enough to include ridicule of
people who take allegories too seriously within his allegories, hence his
true artistry. And those kinds of people, obviously, sense that the joke is
on them, and don't particulary like this film. The level on which Fellini
succeeds is invisible to them, outside their conditioning. And often they
claim to be bored just to cop-out on having to examine themselves and their
ingrained ways of thought and judgment too closely. In fact, you could write
a whole book analyzing "And the Ship Sails On" solely on its deep artistic
value and another on all the great things in this film that certain
'cultured' people don't get because of their particular brand of 'high-brow'
"And the Ship Sails On" is a PURE film, folks, one of the few amidst an ocean of endless mediocrity; and that is the hardest thing to achieve when trying to integrate as many elements as Fellini tries for (he himself has failed many times precisely because he was seeking purity within excess and got lost). He tried for it all and got the balance right this time. It is both satirical and deeply serious, excessive and understated. It is a totally stylized non-sentimental 'sentimental' work in the best sense. It works on many levels and transcends petty criticism from anyone too busy making mountains out of the latest flashy molehill that caters directly to their tastes. This film isn't traditional cinema, it is progressive all right, but it will be ready for you as soon as you're ready for it. Watch it for yourself with an open mind (whenever you're ready for it) and experience the power of art: it's worth more than you've been taught to think it is.
"E la nave va" is one of the best films made by Fellini, which I see as the best film director ever. Just two personal comments about it. First, I have seen it in 1985, when in Romania a dark dictatorship saved hard currency by preventing foreign films to be imported. It was presented during a festival arranged by the Italian Embassy. Combine the local cultural desert and the post-modern style of this film and you'll understand why, after the film ended, I wanted to have just a walk-on part on it. My wife just proposed to pay the projectionist to run it again. The second comment is about a strange premonition Fellini had about the conflict in Serbia/Yougoslavia. Each time I see "E la nave va", I'm deeply moved about the ending, masterly contrasting bold opera music and the vanishing of a certain Europe.
There is no mistaking a Fellini film, even when you only catch the last 30
minutes, as I did when channel surfing. I made an effort to catch the full
film next time it was shown, and was rewarded with a stunning feast. Not
one of Fellini's best (or worst excesses) depending on your opinion of
Fellini, but images that will stay with me for many years. Like Ken
Fellini can always be depended on to go way over the top and never do
anything by halves.
The story of a group of rich aristocrats, opera singers, hangers on and just plain rich accompanying the body of a great opera singer to her cremation on the island of her birth in 1914, is shown in Fellini's stylised fashion as an allegory on the decline of Europe in WWI. The opulent excess of the doomed rich lifestyle, which no matter how hard they tried, was never regained, contrasts with the workers slaving in order to enable the rich to enjoy that elegant privileged lifestyle. The scene where the passengers tour the boiler rooms, standing on a cat walk to look down on the stokers shovelling coal into the boilers and trilling arias while the stokers took off their caps to show respect, made me hope the catwalk would collapse and plunge the passengers into the furnace.
The stylistic storytelling reminded me of "Oh what a lovely War" Joan Littlewood's depiction of WWI as a series of songs and dances by a seaside concert party. If you want reality, you can look out of the window every day and see reality. Sometimes a surrealist view puts a different window on things. The stupendous finale of the movie is enough to make the film worthwhile if nothing else.
When younger, I was a Fellini obsessive - I adored the excess, the humour,
the grotesquerie, the sympathetic comedie humaine, the audacious visuals,
the beautiful, sad, lonely Marcello Mastroianni. For some reason I hadn't
seen one of his pictures for a while, and while his astounding images
remained inviolable in my mind's private cinema, the gradual, repeated
decline of his critical status made me tread fearfully into this nautical
It is clearly his worst film. It always threatens to break into a frenzied dance of the Id, like his best pictures, but never quite does. The acting is generally poor, the dubbing atrocious; the ideas seem to cancel each other out in an aimless mess. Fellini's style is more restrained than usual, with a greater, seemingly restricted, emphasis on content composition and montage. It is clearly the work of a jaded Maestro.
And yet it contains more life, wit and magic than most films this year, and, needless to say, it is less silly than Titanic. The story (a group of mourners carrying the body of a celebrated opera singer on a huge liner as World War I breaks out) is open to many allegorical interpretations (ship as nation, empire, class, art, life etc.), none of which quite fit. There is much play on images of moon (Claire de lune tinkles throughout), tides and sunsets - possibly as motifs of decline, but also of the ever-continuing circle that is its opposite, life?
The film's tone is ambivalent, nostalgic for an elegant age of art and beauty, yet coldly aware of its inhuman faults. This is epitomised by the trademark Fellini altar ego, a journalist/film narrator, who watches the mixture of tragedy and farce with an amused eye, yet desperately wants to belong, and share in its faded grandeur.
There are wonderful set-pieces, and graceful, Kubrickian camera movements. The narrative and characterisation is constantly splintered, mocking the desire of the passengers for order and rank. Imperial folly is angrily lampooned, culminating in a remarkable burlesque dogfight, stylised as a Verdi opera, yielding, in impotent terror, the Force of Destiny.
The classical music soundtrack initially seems bland and uninventive, but actually offers, once identified, a stunning, ironic commentary on the actions, pretensions, sadnesses and failures of the characters and the society they represent. The party scene with the Serbs is very moving - loaded with the mixture of anger and regret that constitute the film's heart.
The self-reflexivity does not patronise the audience for giving into illusion - the film's 'reality' is in question from the beginning. Film is shown not to be a modern weapon of the future (cinema as an art-form emerged at around the same time as the film was set), but merely a skip for the bricolage of Europe and the past. This pessimism, though, is not despairing - there is great beauty in loss.
Fellini accomplishes more in the first 15 minutes than many directors accomplish in a film. His ending (as always) is equally superb. Don't think I'm suggesting the middle is poor! Watch this instead of Titanic.
This film is strange and beautiful- some of the scenes remain with me though I haven't seen it for 12 years. Most of all I recall the scene where the ship takes on a group of refugees somehow this funeral ship with its cargo of grieving operatic elite and exhausted stateless and utterly impoverished people becomes an image of great compassion and humanity and optimism even. I don't "understand" Fellini's films but I "felt" this one very passionately.
first five minutes of `E La Nave Va` was what attracted me most from this movie (not meaning that the rest of it was not interesting). i thought that it should be a silent movie but then i realized that there were some inaudible voices coming from the background. then i asked myself whether there's a problem with the sound system or not. but just as i was thinking about this, voices started to be audible. and the black and white movie became coloured when the ashes were taken to the ship with ceremony. i guess the purpose of using black and white and silent cinema techniques before the ship scenes was to underline the fact that the important factor in the film was the ship itself. life without the ship was black and white (probably meaning boring and full of cliches). but when we enter the world inside the ship (or when we enter the world through Fellini's eyes), we see that there are lots of differences from reality. and that makes the ship coloured! Fellini had created so many symbols including the rhinoceros and the ship itself. but these symbols are not so clearly defined so after watching the film, the audience leaves with some question marks. even if you are not interested in the plot, watch this for a good visual treat. Fellini has reminded me that the cinema is an art which underlines the importance of visual structure.
This film combines whole elements that summarize the meaning of greatness.
A moving masterpiece that explores every aesthetic possibility given by Cinema. Image, sound, music, movement, narration, color, tonality, character, humor, drama. A venture towards artistic sublimation within a story of exquisite taste.
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