DVD Review Of Intervista

Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 3/28/08


  Old men tend to make art that is shallow, imitative of their earlier, better works, and which would never garner an ounce of praise were it not for their backlog of greater works somehow letting their patina still rub off. In America, the best proof of this nostrum is the awarding of the lifetime Academy Award to a film director, or actor. Apparently, Europe is not immune to such worthless laurels either, for, in 1987, Federico Felliniís disastrously bad film Intervista won the Cannes Film Festivalís Fortieth Anniversary Award and the Grand Prize at the Moscow Film Festival. In it, one can see many pastiches from earlier Fellini films, much as Ingmar Bergman cribbed ideas and scenes from his earlier masterpieces for his disastrously bad last film Saraband, the way Akira Kurosawa tossed random ideas together for Dreams, and the way Woody Allen has constantly reworked themes from his 1970s and 1980s great films into his last decadeís worth of mostly mediocrities. That said, even the worst of Allenís recent films, like The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion, were better than Intervista. Fellini might take some solace in the fact that Intervista is a better film than Bergmanís incest-ridden Saraband, but itís a minor comfort, at best, and this shoddy film still falls well shy of even Dreams.

  Felliniís worst critics have called his films, even the great ones, self-important, self-indulgent, meandering, pointless, etc., and it feels almost as if Fellini wanted to give them a film to finally justify their lowest and worst expectations. There really is no point to the film. Itís ostensibly a film within a film within a film, but itís a rework of in that sense, save wholly lacking in anything new to say about Fellini or the art of filmmaking. The premise is that a Japanese tv crew has come to interview Fellini on the set of a new film based upon Franz Kafkaís disastrously bad, uncompleted, and semi-comic novel Amerika. Thus, we watch them pander to The Maestro, as he refers to himself, and then see him filming his own entrťe into Cinecitta film studios a half century before. What this has to do with the faux film of Amerika is a good question, and one that goes unanswered. The Fellini stand-in, Sergio Rubini- playing himself as a character, looks and acts nothing like Fellini, his scenes are pointless, and when we watch him watching the film being made into a film, we donít really care that he is a boob, or that he lusts for a cute blond (Antonella Ponziani) on the trolley, or that he longs to interview a famous film star (Paola Liguori).

  When that episode plays out, we see the Amerika film wrapping up, a thunderstorm hits, so the crew sleeps the whole night under a plastic wrap tent. Why? The studio is less than a hundred yards away, but then American Indian actors could not attack the crew with television antennae, so that the film ends up another film that Fellini is making within Intervistaís confines. Ostensibly, the filmís title could refer to the Japanese crewís pursuit of Fellini, Rubiniís pursuit of the movie star, the actors Felliniís underlings interview for the faux film within the film, or Felliniís existential filmic interview of himself, but thatís about all that one can make of the title, for none of the interviews has any real import. And the concept is far more interesting than the result. The most celebrated sequence in the film comes a good three quarters into the picture, where Marcello Mastroianni, portraying a magician from a tv commercial, and Anita Ekberg- who has blown up into a human helium balloon so large that she can only fit into towels, not dresses, and is a sad, unwitting parody of her earlier feminine glory, entertain Fellini and his crew at her estate outside of Rome, and Mastroianni conjures up images of the two of them from their famous Trevi Fountain scene in the great La Dolce Vita (1959). Not even that iconographic footage can save this film, for Ekbergís and Mastroianniís reunion and interactions are as fake and mannered as this whole film, and seeing Fellini at his height only underscores how far this film is from that earlier masterpiece.

  The DVD, put out by Koch Lorber Video has only a theatrical trailer that says nothing of the film- it is Fellinian, to be sure, but hermetic. The film is in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and subtitled in gold. There is a fifty minute long documentary on Fellini and the film that is a bit self-indulgent, although not nearly so as the film itself. As we see Fellini interviewed and winning award after award, he is asked what the film is about, and he says itís a light film about life as a filmmaker. In effect, he admits thereís nothing to it, and no real reason to see it. This is what happens to old artists- they simply run out of juice, and instead of nobly packing up their bags, they selfishly plow on. Bad films like Intervista or Saraband deny younger, more vigorous, directors the funds and entrťe into the art form that the form needs to grow and persuade and move. These films are wastes of time, especially this one at just under two full hours (far too long), and money, and only sully their creatorsí names.

  This mockumentary vanity project, which started as a television film, was written by Fellini and Gianfranco Angelucci, and thereís not a single moment that has depth nor truth. Even worse, the film is wholly void of humor and fun, unless one feels that characters screaming at each other in Italian stereotypes, or crewmen telling each other to go fuck themselves is funny. And, if one has not seen earlier Fellini films much of the humor- if one dare call it that, will mean nothing. A good comparison would be Steven Soderberghís Full Frontal, another film within a film that is self-referential to the directorís cinemaverse, yet uses its internal mythos to good effect. Of course, Soderbergh made his underrated film in the midst of his career, not at the end, so it has none of the stench Intervista does. Another film that this one could have been more like was Incident At Loch Ness, wherein German director Werner Herzog acted as himself in a film about the making of a fake documentary, and played off of his own persona as a bullshitter and control freak to great comic effect. Fellini, despite what the film and its defenders say, was bent on hagiography not self-deprecation, and its sadly shows. Perhaps the closest film to this, however, not just overall, but in the Fellini canon, is not nor Amarcord, but his 1969 tv mockumentary called Fellini: A Directorís Notebook, which is part of The Criterion Collectionís two disk release. In that film Fellini also spoofs his role as a director, and while not a good film in itself, itís better and more intriguing than this garbage, if only for its lack of pomposity and that it is half the length this one is.

  But if the film is bad, the acting horrible (especially Fellini as The Maestro), well, the criticism of this film is the worst. So many bad critics swallowed deep on this one that itís disgusting to read. Not a word discusses the actual execution of the film; itís all about the celebratory intent of the film for the fallen master. Terms like Ďa film collageí or a Ďcelebration of filmí, or extended psychoanalytical treatises on meaning and symbolism, should tell any discerning cineaste that schlock is about to follow. Intervista is lifeless and dull, to even Felliniastes, and when we see the typical grotesques he employs they lack any resonance because for a grotesque to work it has to contrast with a real set of developed characters. When the whole film is grotesques there is no point to the grotesque. These are the sorts of self-indulgent and narcissistic foreign films that turn most Americans off. Yes, in a sense, Intervista is still a tad better than most Hollywood schlock, but does that really give comfort to film lovers? Leftovers that have nothing to say may still make a decent meatloaf or stew when eaten, but when viewed it just looks like vomit. Pass the napkin.


[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website.]


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