City of Women (1980)

“‘A house without a woman’, they say in my parts, ‘is like the Sea without a Siren’. Don’t you agree with me?”

‘City of Women’, directed by Federico Fellini in 1980, is a satirical comedy and a grand, lavish fantasy that features the ongoing adventures of Marcello Mastroianni in the colourful world of the director of ‘La Dolce Vita’ and ‘8 ½’. Mastroianni plays Snàporaz, a misogynistic Italian who follows a woman when she gets off a train between stops. This impetuous action leads to a series of increasingly bizarre and surreal encounters starting in a hotel in which a feminist conference is taking place. Snàporaz finds himself exposed and facing his own preconceptions and ugly views of women whilst at the same time trying to communicate with his wife, trying to find the perfect woman and trying to get back to the train to resume his journey. It’s obvious that Snàporaz is dreaming, his initial action in following the woman off the train is straight from Lewis Carroll, and the people he meets and situations he gets involved with are oneiric and, at times, nightmarish. The politics of the film, and the inseparable personalities of Snàporaz, Mastroianni and Fellini himself, makes it feel like this movie is working through their own issues and tackling the effect of feminism in Italian society in general. This isn’t always comfortable in the film as the camera lingers unironically and fetishistically on the bodies of the female actors. It’s the lavish sets, the extravagant set-pieces that set this film apart though. It’s like the fantasy sequences from ‘8 ½’, the initial dream and the bathhouse scene, have been extended and adapted to fill an entire movie. The knowing comedic performance of Mastroianni and the way he seems completely in tune with the quirks and poetry of Fellini’s direction is also a joy to watch. It’s a film that often nods to the audience and blurs the line between the viewer of the film, the ‘reality’ in the film and the fantasy of the dream itself.

Would I recommend it? I really love Fellini and I buy completely in to the mixture of sly winks to the audience and the surrendering of plot to spectacle. There’s so much to enjoy in this film on both a superficial and deeper level. Watch in a double-bill with ‘8 ½’ – despite the difference in the names of the character, you’re definitely left with the feeling of this as a sequel.


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