Friday October 1, 1999
Anna Maria Tato's three-hour, 18-minute "Marcello Mastroianni: I Remember" is the kind of full-length career portrait that every great actor deserves but rarely receives.
When Mastroianni died at 72 in Paris on Dec. 19, 1996, he had been acting half a century and had become the leading European international star of his generation. On screen and off, Mastroianni was a man of infinite charm, a quality that suffused a remarkably wide range of roles. He was the definitive handsome leading man, possessed of a certain passiveness that made him wildly attractive to several generations of women. As skilled with comedy as he was with tragedy--and every permutation in between--he avoided playing saints and heroes. Consider some of his most famous roles; in "Divorce Italian-Style" he was a pompous cuckolded count with Brilliantined hair and a silly mustache; in "La Nuit de Varennes" he was the aged Casanova, gallant but decayed, heavily and unevenly rouged and powdered.
Mastroianni loathed the inevitable Latin lover tag that went along with the renown "La Dolce Vita" brought him 40 years ago when he played a world-weary Rome cafe society columnist, marking the beginning of his celebrated collaboration with Federico Fellini that ended only with their deaths. The desire to dispel this myth prompted him to agree to allow Tato, a distinguished documentarian and Mastroianni's companion of more than two decades, to make this film, which they had kept putting off for a decade.
The irony is that even though the documentary steers entirely clear of his romantic life it actually reinforces that "despised" image. It's easy to imagine that the humility, wisdom and passion with which he speaks of his craft, which he loved as much as life itself, would only heighten his appeal to women.
Mastroianni loved playing an impotent husband in the anti-machismo "Il Bel Antonio" and a gay man in the anti-Fascist "Special Day"; in both, he's just the sympathetic, sensitive kind of man whom women love to fantasize "saving" from themselves. And surely, most everyone drawn to this enthralling and deeply moving documentary most likely knows of his romances with Catherine Deneuve--their daughter is actress Chiara Mastroianni--and Faye Dunaway, among others. The point to make about Mastroianni being viewed as a Latin lover is how effectively he could play against the stereotype and how far away he could move away from it without ever truly escaping it. Thus Mastroianni emerged as a very modern male who possessed weaknesses as well as strengths, more human than heroic.
The film is superbly structured. On one level it unfolds as Mastroianni is on location in Portugal for Manoel De Olveira's elegiac "Voyage to the Beginning of the World," which would prove to be a most effective epitaph to a glorious screen career. On another, it allows Mastroianni to discuss his career in chronological order, but both these overall narrative lines allow for plenty of rich free association and for him to converse with us in many locales--Mastroianni loved to travel and loved architecture. He might be railing against the mindlessness of mainstream TV while acknowledging his affection for nature documentaries, which in turn triggers his thoughts of documentaries on World War II and in turn his own experiences in Mussolini's Italy. In some sections Mastroianni had grown noticeably gaunt and pale yet his enthusiasm dims not an iota.
Mastroianni had the good fortune to become a part of Luchino Visconti's acting company, and early in his career he appeared in productions of "Three Sisters," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Death of a Salesman"; Chekhov would remain a passion of Mastroianni, who would have great success with "Dark Eyes," Nikita Mikhalkov's enchanting film drawn from several Chekhov short stories. For Mastroianni, Chekhov, in his understatement, would always move him more than Shakespeare.
He had in addition to Fellini close collaborations with Vittorio De Sica (teamed unforgettably with Sophia Loren), Marion Monicelli, Ettore Scola and the ever-venturesome and darkly humorous Marco Ferreri.
Mastroianni insisted that Tato include entire sequences--hence, the lengthy running time--and not just the usual ultra-brief clips. He was right to do so, for you get the measure of his performances and the quality of the films themselves.
Monicelli's "The Organizer" is rightly near the beginning of the film and near the top of Mastroianni's favorites among his films. This 1963 masterpiece finds Mastroianni cast as a diffident yet determined university professor who attempts to help turn-of-the-century Turin factory workers form a union. Of course, we see once again the most famous moment in all of Mastroianni films, from "La Dolce Vita": embracing the goddess-like Anita Ekberg in Rome's Fountain of Trevi (which was turned off in honor of Mastroianni's death--and turned on again in a ceremony involving the city's mayor and his widow, from whom he had long been amicably separated).
Of the approximately 170 films in which Mastroianni appeared he reckoned that about 20 were "really rotten," undertaken to afford a flashy car, a chance to visit a foreign locale (e.g., two months in Budapest) or to pay off back taxes. Yet Mastroianni arguably made more outstanding films than any actor of his generation. Mastroianni was a lover of cities, with a special affection for Naples, where the film concludes.
"Life is an appearance on a balcony, and then the shutters close," says Mastroianni, quoting his Naples hotel's night porter. Lest this seem too sentimental, too apt, Mastroianni characteristically hastens to add that not only did the man expect a tip for such an aphorism but also had to be reminded, "That's what you said last night, too."
Marcello Mastroianni: I Remember, 1999. Unrated. A First Look Features release of a Mikado and Instituto Luce presentation in collaboration with Cinecitta and RAI Radiotelisione Italiana and Tele Plus. Director-editor Anna Maria Tato. Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno. Music Armando Trovaioli. Running time: 3 hours, 18 minutes.