And the Ship Sails On (1983) Poster

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Left me gasping for air...
zetes7 September 2001
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.
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Glittering late career gem
arnold.mcbay16 November 2000
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!
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Fellini's Touch in Every Frame
eunice-424 October 1999
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 Russell, 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.
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A gallery of Europeans before the volcano erupts.
bojin-121 February 2006
"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.
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Aw-komon21 December 2000
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' conditioning.

"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.
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Fellini magics strangeness into an overworked subject.
alice liddell30 July 1999
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 drama.

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.
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Everyone is a Story
nv-1110 December 2011
At 1st view, I thought our sound didn't work on the DVD player, then so typical of Fellini, knowing this, he slowly adds little sound bites, then there is music and singing, then there is voice. Everyone on the ship is requested to be there by the dead opera singer's will to witness her ashes being blown at sea at her desired place 3 days sailing out. There is no point to this movie, a bunch of hodge podge scenes, each with their own uniqueness. But the sum doesn't add up, it is just vignettes (almost) on this crazy ship. It starts off in the dining room like a choreographed ballet. Everything is orderly, then as the days go on it is not so. Many scenes are hilarious, like the sing-off to the boiler room sweaty guys and the sweaty guys are really getting into it! Even to the point of singing and swaying to the music as if they would know opera! The concert of the glassware in the kitchen as the cooks are frantically preparing the meals was by far my favorite scene. Then there were refugees on the ship. Was Fellini privy to future conflict to happen in 10 years future? And a rhino in the ship's hold then needs a hose-down? Dis-jointed but yet like life, everyone has a story. The movie ends but you know everyone else's story doesn't. Great movie!
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Tender exquisite
suzmitz27 July 2002
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.
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Watch this instead of Titanic
Paladin-515 January 1999
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.
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Bon voyage
federovsky30 April 2008
Everyone seemed to expect something special from Fellini later in life, as if all that had gone before was just preparation for a master oeuvre that would make us fall to our knees. In that sense, he kept disappointing, and with this film probably more than most. There's nothing here but quaintness and nostalgia, with a gentle, almost Tati-esquire humour – intellectually, he was going backwards, if anything. Twenty-odd years later, Fellini is now fully in context and it is easier to accept. This is what Fellini did – like it or not - the simple observation of harmless caricatures, which is actually engaging, enjoyable, even a little intriguing. Nobody is intrinsically good or bad; everyone is a set of circumstances, more or less fortunate or unfortunate; nobody harbours grudges – even here – especially here, on the eve of World War I, the end of a golden era of genteel innocence.

The first time I watched this I took against Freddie Jones' MC character. This time I liked him, or rather sympathised with him – mainly on account of the fact that since then I used to live in the next village to him in Oxfordshire where he was a well-known and amiable local character. Still regrettable though that he was clearly directed here to copy Giuletta Masina's gestures and mannerisms as closely as possible. As a journalist following events, he introduces us to the passengers on a luxury liner taking a group of opera singers, impresarios and dignitaries – including the Austrian Grand Duke – to the funeral-at-sea of a beloved diva. All of them are eccentric or charming in their own way and a succession of quaint scenes ensues as the voyage progresses – including a hypnotised chicken, a sickly rhinoceros, and a memorable scene in which the singers perform for the stokers high above the boiler room (quite a bit of this was clearly parasitised by Tornatore in "The Legend of 1900").

It all has a deliberate artificiality about it. The sea, rising and falling serenely behind the windows, is, on closer examination, made of plastic sheet. At the end, the camera pulls back to display the set and the crew – a simple indication that we are all part of some grander machination, that we are all a bunch of fools on a sinking ship, and if we all took life a little less seriously, we might enjoy it a good deal more. Once you've got in the right frame of mind, this is highly enjoyable.
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A surrealist cartography; addictive flavor
Cristi_Ciopron10 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
E LA NAVE … certainly deserves a place of honor is the master's creation—as the most eerie, genuinely Goyesque and intriguing rune, a surrealist and twisted vision using profuse intuitions and ambiguous understatements. That's why few movies can match this one. It does not require maybe that much expertise to acknowledge what a thoughtful movie this is, and, beyond being thoughtful, from what depths of genuine intuition it does proceed.

E LA NAVE … is one of the buff's exams—the master has long ago already passed his exams, and now the buff faces this one—what will he/ or she, fair reader, make of this bizarre, strikingly funny, surrealist _capriccio ,once its very visionary nature is acknowledged and brought to full admission? Me, I'm a man aged in such Fellinianisms. I recognize quickly the artifacts of the surrealism contrived and forced; I can testify for the authenticity of the Fellinian creative intuition in E LA NAVE …;it's a fever of the Fellini—beyond—Fellini, at a stage without sentimental-isms and heartache; a coherent world-view, a satire and a bitter comedy. Maybe, just maybe, a surrealist cosmogony as well.

Already in Fellini's time, cinema was long ago validated as art. There was no word of acknowledging or validating it as art; Fellini already comes after some giants. Nowadays as in Fellini's own time, some people, less discerning, seem eager to recognize DAUGHTER OF HORROR (which I comment on this site) as genuine surrealism—but to a lesser degree E LA NAVE …; now that's awkward. Because here Fellini the wizard went beyond ambitions and achieved this part—Goyesque part satirical take on a world long ago abolished and drowned; and some of those who know at least some of the important Italian cinema of the '70s and '80s (things like the Ottaviani brothers, the Avatti, and the master Fellini himself) will not fail to recognize rather promptly this blend and also this special flavor of temerity and decadence.

Now of course most do not even need this; yet I would insist of taking by the hand the unconvinced few and dip them a little in this—what shall we call it—in this primordial soup, in this _cosmographic sketch. I bet you do not know many other musical sequences in the cinema as good as the glasses session in the ship's kitchen. They are good, are they not? You had some fun. Or the countless jokes issued by the master's inventiveness—beginning of course with the silent scene right at the beginning, before the color shift.

The final Fellini was somehow the mellower; understandable. Do not be fooled by the down-talkers. They ignore the trade. Maybe those used with the first Fellini—or with the first Fellinis, should one say—failed to adapt and change. But for me, after the '60s Fellini only got better—if such a thing were possible. In E LA NAVE … there's nothing phony or fake; on the contrary, it's creepily genuine.

Enjoy the style, the movement, the atmosphere, the approach! I have mentioned the scene of the glass concerto; there, the cinematographic phrase itself dances. What Fellini delivers here are not a few gimmicks and tricks but an original take. Here at least some schmucks who pretend to direct movies could learn at least some of the externals.
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world through Fellini's eyes
krebstar5 September 2001
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.
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Sleeping Chickens
tedg7 February 2010
Fellini is a visionary mystic. He sees what he knows before he figures it out. So we have set design, costume design, even character design, before he fills things in with his narratives and allegories. I know this, so don't come to be disappointed when the stories and allegories do not quite work. It is the sign of risktaking that he allows his vision to outrace his sense.

Shakespeare thought "The Tempest" would be his last play. The technology of the stage had left him behind, so in a sort of final flourish built a play that exploited the new special effects, costume and stage technologies, far better than his contemporaries. And within that he placed a surrogate of himself. The play is full of deep observations on the nature of life and reason. Each of these is essential to his purpose, which was to present himself through ideas. Few of these were necessary to advance the story. Much was made of the plays within the play and who controls what elements of them

Fellini similarly believed this to be his final film. At 62, already advised that his heart would give out, he poured everything he wanted to say into this. Yes, he always did that, but this time he used "The Tempest" as his guide. Afterwards he would go to Peru for inspiration.

The film is folded into a literal opera, an opera about the life of a famous opera star, which morphs from small stories (a singoff in the boiler room) into an opera of war.

Orthogonally, the film is folded twice into an inner film being made of the event and an outer film of the film. The way we are introduced to these two devices simultaneously is one of the most trilling beginnings in the history of cinema. There is an inner, inner séance.

As a film experience, it is much like "Duck Soup," where the fakery and frippery is exposed and unremarked on: in the thing itself; in the ridiculous pomp of "royalty;" in the strutting of the artists, all conflated.

I would have been tempted to give this the honor of being one of the two Fellini films I set as fours. That would be because when a man prepares to die, it matters what he says. But it so happens that he thought the same before the two I picked.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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Great Rare Fellini Film on DVD!
filmfilm-424 April 2006
This film is a masterpiece. The characters are complex and a delight. Every camera angle, scene, dialogue are extraordinary. The music is aptly chosen and elucidates characters. One never knows what to expect next in this film. One will easily find themselves aboard this bizarre ship and part of the movie. I felt like I returned to 1914 while watching this film. It is very rare that a time in the past comes calmly alive feeling like present time in a film. Hollywood uses special effects and computers to try to achieve this while Fellini uses complex simplicity and correct dialogues to achieve this. This film has haunted my very soul and will be one never forgotten.
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One of Fellini's better later films
TheLittleSongbird21 August 2012
By all means it is not of Fellini's finest, Nights of Cabiria, La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, Amarcord and La Strada involved and moved me more. However along with Ginger and Fred(my personal favourite of that particular part of Fellini's career), When the Ship Sails On it is one of Fellini's better later films after Amarcord. The visuals as to expect from Fellini are simply gorgeous in both photography and scenery. The music is both beautiful and quirky. While Fellini's direction is more restrained than usual, there is still the distinctive style that made his films so wonderful. The story has some nostalgia, some surrealistic beauty and some impish humour, all three of which blend superbly and are interesting individually. The sudden arrival of Balkan refugees does have an emotional impact. If there was a weak point it was the acting, Freddie Jones as always is excellent but the rest are uneven ranging from decent to poor. The dubbing also has moments of sloppiness. Overall, a fine film and while not one of my favourites of the later Fellinis it does stand out as one of the better ones. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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vdg17 February 2004
Music and color, passion and lucidity, tragedy and comedy. Yes, all of them and some more are contained in this masterpiece! From the one of the most originals beginnings in the film history to some pure perfection moments, this movie does not disappoint. Bare in mind this is a FELINNI movie, so your `normal' perception of a movie should be altered to a more `felinnian' way… I have to say that this movie would stay in my memory long before those `Hollywood blockbuster' movies would be forgotten! There is one complain I have to make: the dubbing of some of the characters! I really don't know what Felinni had in mind, but sometimes is really annoying their pronunciation!! I give this movie 9 out 10!!! If you want food for your soul watch this one PLUS `Juliet of the spirits'!!!
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Superb Cinema
moonman18 March 1999
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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Fantastic latter-day Fellini effort, well worth seeing
ametaphysicalshark9 August 2008
"And the Ship Sails On" is perhaps the only post-"Amarcord" Fellini film truly worthy of extravagant praise. The film is Fellini through and through. No other director or writer could do anything that feels quite like this. A wonderful, surreal absurdity, the film features a diverse cast of bizarrely engaging characters (including a lovesick Rhinoceros). Always engaging, completely unique, and rather special, this film is probably among my favorite Fellini efforts. It's not perfect (Fellini is such an auteur that he has a sense of humor that few others can fully appreciate all the time, and sometimes it's a little trying), but it's an excellent movie.

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Visually great
ensiform26 July 1999
Fellini as usual fills this film with bizarre imagery, cinematography like a painting, and carnival-house faces. The symbolism of a decaying Europe is drawn with rather broad strokes (the bloated smelly rhino as colonialism, the hungry at the windows of the rich), but it's worth watching just for the visuals. Oh yeah, the music's great too.
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A grand allegory, and one of Fellini's best.
ThreeSadTigers29 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
In keeping with the style and tone of his later-period films, like Fellini-Roma, Amarcord and Casanova, ...And The Ship Sails On is a purposely elaborate and overly-stylised romp through the decadent and the grotesque, as a congregation of mourning opera singers find themselves stuck on a drifting ocean liner, whilst, unbeknownst to them, the first World War is breaking out across Europe. Like all of Fellini's work following 8 ½ (or maybe even going as far back as Nights of Cabiria), the films seems loose and directionless, propelled along by a series of darkly-comic set-pieces, colourful characters and grand cinematic gestures. It's less sprawling than a film like La Dolce Vita and less abstract and thematically repulsive as Satyricon, with the film falling somewhere in between, probably ending up closer to the fantastical stylisation and nostalgic fabrication of Amarcord than anything else.

It's certainly more focused than many of his films from the same era, with Fellini managing to present a loose story that we can actually buy into, whilst the use of humour here is much broader and more central than some of his other films, with the references to Chaplin and the silent age helping to undercut the overt-stylisation (a thousand acres of plastic seas, a huge light bulb sun, etc) and the lack of an obvious central character (or any real character, for that matter). Once again, Fellini deals in caricatures, choosing actors more for their physical appearance than any kind of acting ability, then directs them to mug to the camera with movements and expressions as grand as the film's design.

The photography here is exquisite (like all Fellini), with the director creating a number of beautiful images and compositions that look like paintings from the early part of the last century. The opening scene for example is the most astounding thing that the director ever created... the crew and opera singers carry the coffin of their beloved soprano down the jetty and up onto the ship in a series of long, sweeping crane shots. Deceptively, but also as to illustrate his cinematic references, Fellini begins the film with no sound and in a dull, brown sepia. As the film progresses, and the camera follows the mourners and the actions of the ship's crew, the sound of the ship-yard begins to slowly fade in... much like the colour of the images. There are a number of other stand out cinematic moments, in which Fellini gracefully orchestrates the actors and his camera so that their movements are integrated, almost like a musical, whilst the use of fast-motion to over-exaggerate the period feel and to create a sense of farce that works well with the material, and Fellini's style of direction.

Some might argue that the film is quite trivial and never really ascends to the level of greatness set by the likes of La Strada, 8 ½ and Amarcord, and I suppose that's true, but for me, the film creates such an atmosphere and such a wholly intoxicating world of stylisation, arcane historical references and the trademark Fellini absurdities, that the whole film becomes a joy to sit through. On top of all the grand visual flourishes, outlandish characterisations and general Fellini-isms, there's also the various symbolic references and narrative interpretations, which give the film a further layer of entertainment.

The use of World War One as a pivot for the latter half of the story is an essential one and is important in as much as it allows Fellini (after so much time spent on spectacle and cinematic buffoonery) to create a notion much more meaningful and memorable. There are a number of interpretations and connotations you could connect to the idea of the ship (a metaphor about class... society... royalty... the birth of a nation... the idea of escape... the ship of fools... etc) and the idea of life and death, so irremovably woven into the depiction of the mourners. So, what begins as a typically Fellini-esquire romp, gradually becomes something much more meaningful, and remains, in my opinion, his last true masterpiece.

Admittedly, it's nowhere near as essential as his earlier films, pre-8 ½, in which his work generally had a much greater degree of narrative and cohesion, though from his later, more grandiose films, ...And The Ship Sails on remains an absolute treat... better than the difficult Roma and Satyricon, more impressive and enjoyable than Casanova and The City of Women and perhaps just short of the charm and atmosphere of the masterpiece Amarcord. All in all, an epic and enjoyable film that stands as a grand testament to one of the artistic giants of post-war cinema, 20th century cinema.
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I liked it, but the ending left me unsatisfied
MartinHafer14 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is one weird film--and Fellini intended it to be. The plot doesn't seem all that important, but the "voyage" there is the substance of the film. A luxury liner is chartered by a group of rich admirers of a recently deceased opera diva. Their purpose is to bury her ashes at sea, but the actual burial only takes a very tiny portion of the film. Instead, the focus is on the journey itself and it is done in a combination of SLOW and artistic shot combined with a very surreal sensibility. Sometimes, the people move in a rhythmic fashion, while at others they break into VERY elaborate operatic numbers and the sets are NOT the least bit realistic at times but look more like art nouveau pieces of art. I particularly was captivated by the scene in which the rich travelers visit the boiler room and try to outdo each other in singing. It's just so strange yet compelling. I liked the film very much, but would certainly NOT want a steady diet of this type of movie. About the only thing I really hated was at the very end when the cameras panned back and showed the actual film crew and set. This completely took me out of the weird moment and seemed unnecessary--I wanted to remain stuck in this strange world a little longer and hated to be reminded it was all a movie. This was, by the way, the same reaction I had at the ending to THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO.
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Fellini is for coffee drinkers
rooprect28 October 2005
Fellini is for people who drink excessive amounts of coffee. (And if you're sitting there saying, "I drink coffee but not excessive amounts of it", you're deluding yourself.) Fellini is for people who would like to make the world a better place, but they don't know how, so they just avoid it and concern themselves with the absurdity of life. And drink more coffee.

When watching Fellini films I am infected with a violent desire to throw popcorn at the screen and quote Bruno Kirby from _When Harry Met Sally_ in the scene where he's frustrated at Sally's inability to convey her ideas while playing a game of Pictionary: "Draw SOMETHING resembling ANYTHING!!!"
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La Belle Epoque
davidmvining12 January 2021
It seems odd for Fellini to have picked the Belle Epoque to be the subject of his satirical eye. Ending more than seventy years before And the Ship Sails On's production and ending six years before Fellini's birth, La Belle Epoque was a Franco-centric period marked by peace and cultural and technological advancements. It all came crashing down with the violence and bloodshed of World War I. And it's on this cruise from Italy to a small island, designed to honor the recently departed and greatest of opera singers Edmea Tetua, where the Belle Epoque meets the future.

The movie opens as a silent film with sepia toned images and a complete lack of soundtrack and bleeds slowly into color and sound. As the group of opera singers, managers, and critics climb aboard the Gloria N they all break into a song. The cast of characters is large, and we're not really supposed to identify with them individually though there are certain standouts. First and foremost is Orlando, a journalist who functions as a narrator, introducing characters and providing critique as we move through the film. The large opera singer Aureliano, a Russian basso who can hypnotize a hen to sleep with his voice, the jealous Ildebranda who wants the secret to Edmea's voice, and the Grand Duke, a young and fat Prussian royal, who make the most impact.

For several days these characters wander the ship, touring it with the captain, and speak of frivolous things while the recent outbreak of hostilities incited by the assassination of the Arch Duke Ferdinand gets barely a mention. There's a séance which a wealthy fan of the diva tries to ruin by appearing in her clothes as a ghost only to be found out and insulted. There's the trip to the boiler room where, high on a gangway removed from the grit of the work, the opera singers enter into an unofficial singing contest in order to entertain the grimy men below who make the boat go. There's also a rhinoceros being transported below deck that begins to stink up the entire ship and must be raised out and washed. All of this has implications of the people and their status in contemporary culture, with them far removed from the people that they speak of in abstract.

Much like the wrecking ball crashing into the practice space in Orchestra Rehearsal, everything changes when the boat picks up a large group of Serbian refugees in the middle of the night. The captain saw it as his duty, but the wealthy passengers firstly see it as an affront. They should not have to share their well paid space with nationless freeloaders, but the two groups end up connection through music. The Serbians play and dance, and the opera mavens playfully critique, provide history, and join in before the real world intervenes in the form of an Austro-Hungarian warship demanding the Serbs.

Like most late Fellini films, the overall point doesn't really materialize until the ending, but when it does it is rather stark. I think the movie is about the inefficacy and powerlessness of artists against real world forces. They are able to delay the delivery of the Serbs with the help of the Grand Duke, Edmea's reputation, and their overall mission, which the Austro-Hungarians honor, but once the ashes have been spread the Austro-Hungarians have not forgotten the Serbians. This is where Orlando, the journalist and critic, becomes the most important. He dreams of an alternate scenario where they stood strong and refused to hand over the refugees, but it's not the case. Instead, we watch as the Serbians line up into the boat to be transported to the warship, and all the opera singers can do is sing in defiance. The singing changes nothing, of course. The Serbians still go, but it all goes even worse when a Serbian terrorist amongst the group throws a primitive bomb into the warship, accidentally causing a cannon to fire, which hits the Italian vessel and sinks her (though, as Orlando explains, there are other interpretations of the events that include the Austro-Hungarians firing on purpose).

So, why did Fellini chose La Belle Epoque to satirize? Well, I think he saw it as a vessel for his criticism of contemporary artists and their relation to the world around them. Fellini was known for personal works that entertained. He didn't try to push the world one direction or another through his work because he realized no movie of his could directly influence world events, and yet it's a common goal that artists can share. The opera singing above the coal workers showed the artists removed from the real world, and their singing on deck as the Serbians get taken away showed them powerless when faced with tangible might. Their critique and intended instruction of Serbian dance to Serbians dancing showed them unknowledgeable of their limits when it comes to their textbook based intelligence.

The movie's production design, I think, helps to highlight this barrier. The boat was recreated on a soundstage at Cinecitta, like how Fellini had worked on every film since La Dolce Vita, but there's no effort to sell the space, especially above deck, as realistic. It's heavily theatrical with waves made of plastic, much like the plastic garbage bag waves in Fellini's Casanova, that are meant to highlight to artificiality of the characters' existence. We even get an extended shot towards the end of the movie as Fellini breaks the fourth wall and shows the movie's production that includes a look at the large gimbal that held up the set and allowed for it to tilt.

Overall, And the Ship Sails On is a good little movie made up of vignettes that drive the action forward. I do wish for a paring down of characters to provide a greater focus, but as it stands, the movie demonstrates Fellini's thematic intelligence and command of the physical elements of production.
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good for its time
root_king20 December 2020
There is a review that says 'Left me gasping for air' lol. If you are gonna watch it anytime after today i.e. Dec 2020 you will have enough air, don't worry. I think this film was great during its period, breaking the forth wall, jumping between narrative and story. little bit of the set and good sense of humour
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You're right, Adam Jones!
Giulietta_degli_spiriti21 January 2006
That's totally true, Adam. Fellini says in few minutes what directors and writers wanted (do they really want?...) to say in many ignorant movies, like Spielberg's or Cameron's movies. Pay attention that "ignorant" is not an injury, it's simply an adjective for those kind of movies that just don't promote the intellect. But, hey, we are talking about show business, not "art business" or "show art", but "show" and "business". But I really think it's a waste of time to do a movie just for people laugh or cry and do it mentally ill. So then it's not correct to call people like Spielberg and CIA. as "artists", because they have the same job as the magicians in children parties. Fellini is an artist, he makes real art, not just for making businesses or a great stupid show to people be delighted with the illusion of the happy endings.
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