Italia the fatherland, Roma the whore-mother. Federico Fellini’s Eternal City fugue is neither memory ("Oh, you and your damned Proust!") nor documentary (the craning camera pretending to be following a rain-spattered traffic jam is actually orchestrating it). Imagery is instead arranged in impressionistic, movable blocks that ebb and flow in a sea of molten lava. The Rome of Romolo and Remo, the She-Wolf, Caesar and Il Duce; ancient gladiators are fodder for "white-telephone" screens, Messalina is now the pharmacist’s wife, aroused in the movie theater. The city (in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1970s) is a fleshy, garrulous, perspiring, raspberry-blowing beast, Fellini is the resplendent teenager (Peter Gonzalez) drinking it in and the middle-aged ringleader who’s seen it fall and rise a couple of times. Taking a break from shooting, the filmmaker shuffles back and forth between the old guard who demands a gorgeous portrait of the city and the young turks who insist on addressing its "modern-day problems." Instead, Fellini revisits the dance hall from Variety Lights, now Bacchus-swollen -- the fascist are extolled between impressions of Fred Astaire and Ben Turpin, air-raid sirens bring down the curtains. The old world is an exhumed necropolis with disintegrating frescoes, the new one falls between the cheap-grotesque brothel and the fancy-grotesque brothel. The boy who cheered at the callipygian snapshot sneaked into the school slide-show is clearly the same who would later lay out a fashion-show catwalk for papal pageantry (cf. Russell’s The Devils). The communal sidewalk banquet, the hippie Valhalla on the Spanish Steps, the police raid in the piazza... Gore Vidal raises a toast to the apocalypse, Anna Magnani slams the door on the camera’s face. At long last silent at night, the city is overrun by a stampede of motorcycles: The new barbarians? All roads lead to Rome, though Fellini manages to pull them together into the image of the Amazonian prostitute in the empty, foggy roadside, exhausted but unsinkable. Cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno. With Fiona Florence, Pia De Doses, Marne Maitland, Renato Giovannoli, Elisa Mainardi, and Galliano Sbarra.
--- Fernando F. Croce