“Alea iacta est.”
‘Roma’, directed by Federico Fellini in 1972, is the perfect example of a movie in which a city forms the central character. As with most of his films, ‘Roma’ doesn’t have a straightforward plot but is rather a sequence of vignettes ties loosely around the director’s own encounters with the city in both the 1970s and the 1930s. Like ‘La Dolce Vita’ it has that perfect balance between the sacred and the profane, and like that earlier movie is explores its location from top to bottom. Unlike ‘La Dolce Vita’, however, this movie also explores the city through time cutting frequently between the two periods and making parallels between them particularly in its depiction of the Rome underworld: both socially with prostitutes and poverty. It also does this literally in one key sequence as engineers drilling tunnels under the city break into an ancient Roman catacomb and, in doing so, exposes it to the pollution of modernity that corrupts and wipes ancient and beautiful frescos. It’s a rich film sometimes surreal, such as the mirrored scenes of prostitutes parading to drum up trade, and a bizarre Vatican fashion show climaxing with nuns wearing ostentatious, neon lit habits and two priests on roller-skates. But all the way through is the spectre of Mussolini’s fascism and the dangers that oppressive regime posed to the liberal pleasures of Rome. Fellini takes this warning one step further though, by indicating the parallel danger of modernity corrupting the spirit of the city. Towards the end of the movie is a telling cameo in her last role by the actress Anna Magnani, famous for her role as a stoic and brave, but doomed resistance fighter in ‘Rome, Open City’, co-written by Fellini. We see her turning the director away from her door, refusing to allow him to enter or film. This final judgement on the director himself seems to sum up Fellini’s central theme: that Rome in the 1970s was on the cusp of collapse just as it did in the 1930s.
Would I recommend it: yes, it’s written and directed by Fellini in his prime, so it’s packed with fascinating and engrossing imagery. Watch in a double bill with ‘Rome, Open City’, ‘La Dolce Vita’ or maybe Pasolini’s ‘Mamma Roma’, films that use the city as a central character.