2-1/2 stars (out of 4)
"Fellini: I'm a Born Liar" is a sometimes-entrancing documentary about one of the 20th century's major filmmakers, the great Italian fabulist autobiographer and dream-weaver Federico Fellini, maker of comic-poetic-tragic masterpieces such as "8 1/2," "La Strada," "Nights of Cabiria" and "La Dolce Vita."
The movie, filled with clips and images from his films, reawakens some of the magical spell they initially cast during the decades (the '60s and '70s) when Fellini's films regularly included his name within the title ("Fellini Satyricon," "Fellini's Roma," etc.). Yet its fascination may be limited to those already very familiar with his works and collaborators - and his sensual, highly subjective style.
Writer-director Damian Pettigrew has woven the film around a rare, invaluable and revealing old interview with Fellini (who died in 1994), as well as newer talks with collaborators and admirers (actors Donald Sutherland, Roberto Benigni and Terence Stamp; cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno; screenwriter Tullio Pinelli). Enriching the portrait further are shots of the backgrounds and landscapes immortalized in his films, and a few priceless scenes of Fellini actually rehearsing and shooting "Satyricon" and "Casanova."
All this makes the movie a must for film scholars and Fellini lovers. But other viewers (including those who want to learn about a director once central to world film culture and now lesser known to younger audiences) may be frustrated by Pettigrew's neglect of crucial biographical information and the films made before "8 1/2," and by his maddening decision to leave all screen identification off the interviews.
Many of us will recognize Fellini, Benigni, Sutherland and Stamp. But how many will immediately identify novelist Italo Calvino, not to mention Rotunno, Pinelli, producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier and many of the others? The absence of any sustained comment from Fellini's key actors (his wife, Giulietta Masina, and Marcello Mastroianni) and his key composer (the late Nino Rota), which surely could have been culled from archives, hurts the film as well.
Seeing Fellini again in the flesh and in his films is, as always, a pleasure and a teasing mystery - even if "Fellini: I'm a Born Liar" is best watched in conjunction with the films themselves, especially "8 1/2" and the autobiographical trilogy of "Roma," "Amarcord" and "Intervista." The film, for all its frustrating qualities, does bring us closer to this intriguing, seductive and admittedly devious artist. And it reminds us of the special magic his works still hold. The interview with Benigni recalls something else: the disgraceful fact that the wonderful film they made together, Fellini's last movie "The Voices of the Moon" (1990), still lacks proper U.S. release and distribution.
"Fellini: I'm a Born Liar"
Directed by Damian Pettigrew; written by Pettigrew, Oliver Gal; photographed by Paco Wiser; edited by Florence Ricard; music by Nino Rota, others; produced by Gal. With Fellini, Donald Sutherland, Terence Stamp, Roberto Benigni, Italo Calvino, Giuseppe Rotunno. In English and Italian, with English subtitles. A First Look Features release; opens Friday at Landmark Century Centre. Running time: 1:45. No MPAA rating (adult; sensuality and language).